Assembly chiefs vote in favour of historic child welfare settlement

Aundeck Omni Kaning Chief Patsy Corbiere says the settlement is for the children and all they have gone through.

OTTAWA—The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has voted unanimously in favour of standing by the final settlement agreement it reached with the federal government earlier this year which saw the feds commit to a landmark $40 billion settlement agreement on a child welfare deal.

“It is an historic agreement to help the families and children in the child welfare system,” said Patsy Corbiere, chief of Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK) First Nation and chair of the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising after the AFN annual general meeting last week. “As it was stated at the gathering, this is not about me as a chief, or other chiefs. It is about the children and families being compensated for everything they have gone through.”

The AFN, representing more than 600 First Nations across the country, asked the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) to approve the settlement deal, which would see the government spend $20 billion to compensate families and children for systemic discrimination in the Indigenous child welfare system. It would also spend another $20 billion on making long-term reforms.

The CHRT rejected the deal earlier this fall, and the federal government filed for a judicial review of some parts of its decision.

The chiefs prepared to vote on conflicting resolutions, with one asking them to support the final settlement agreement, while another sought to see the organization not appeal the tribunal decision and renegotiate the deal.

“The chiefs voted to have the compensation being back to where it had been agreed to,” said Glen Hare, Regional Chief for Ontario. “The vote passed unanimously in favour of processing the payment that had been in the original settlement deal. We all agree we are not going to leave anyone behind. The resolution passed unanimously.”

“The prime minister and other politicians were also there and also wanted this to go forward and get the money out the door. Everyone was behind the motion for the original agreement to go ahead,” continued Regional Chief Hare.

Class action lawsuits had been launched after the tribunal ruled Ottawa discriminated against First Nations children by underfunding on-reserve child welfare services and ordered Ottawa to provide compensation to children and families affected by the system.

A separate resolution, by Chief Corbiere and Chief Bob Gloade of Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia, called on chiefs to stand by the final settlement agreement.

Following an intervention from retired senator and former Truth and Reconciliation Commission chair Murray Sinclair, the chiefs agreed to combine the competing resolutions and present the Canadian government with a unified front. The new resolution urged Canada to place the minimum of $20 billion earmarked for compensation into an interest-bearing account and then immediately compensate all those covered by both the tribunal’s rulings and the class action.

“This was an historic agreement to get the money moving. So can start flowing funds to those people affected who will now be compensated,” said Chief Corbiere.

The final settlement guarantees $40,000 to each child removed from their homes, communities and families, and possibly more than the tribunal ordered, depending on the severity of harm they experienced.