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It has been more than 40 years since Melissa Walterson was taken from her birth family in Winnipeg.
A member of the Nishichwesihk Cree nation, he was adopted into a white family and attended a predominantly white school. There, she said she experienced her “fair share of lateral violence” and, even today, she still works to learn what she was taught about her “so-called place in this world.”
Walterson was wrapped in a blanket during a ceremony at the First Nations Annual General Assembly meeting in Vancouver on Wednesday. She was joined by other representative plaintiffs in two First Nations child welfare class action lawsuits against the federal government.
Last month, plaintiffs, AFN and Ottawa finalized a $20-billion settlement to compensate children and families who were discriminated against through chronic underfunding of child welfare services at Ottawa stores.
“I think our children need to be with our people,” Walterson told a crowd in the assembly. “Our children need to be protected from the hardships I have experienced.”
“This class action is about our children, our families and our communities. This is what we are dealing with,” said a tearful Karen Osachoff. “I love my people so much and I love who I am Am.”
Osachoff, whose birth name is Erin Faye Knappes, is also a representative plaintiff. Members of the Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan are Walterson’s sister, but the pair did not meet until two and a half years ago, only to discover through their own inquiries that they had siblings.
“I felt like I was,” Walterson said of hearing Osachoff’s voice on the phone for the first time.
Winnipeg Indigenous activist speaks out on child welfare settlement
The $20 billion compensation agreement adds to the $20 billion promised by Ottawa to reform the First Nations child welfare system over five years. It stems from a 2016 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision, which the federal government spent years battling in court, and represented more than a decade of work by countless families, advocates, lawyers and leaders.
Manitoba AFN regional chief Cindy Woodhouse, one of the agreement’s key negotiators, described it as a “major victory” for the First Nations people and “a human rights case setting a precedent”.
“I am grateful that those families will get some justice from this,” she told Global News. “Maybe they’re not going to solve what they’re doing through the child welfare system, but I think it’s a starting point and a point where it shows that they’ve been wronged.” “
She thanked her two young children, Kyler and Colt, who endured their mother’s constant absence for months, to support her work.
‘Breathe life into our own laws’: visions for the future of Indigenous child welfare in BC
Several leaders and proxies have stated that child welfare – the health, wellbeing, livelihood and opportunities of all First Nations youth – is the most important topic of discussion at the AFN’s annual general assembly.
However, in an impassioned address, AFN Youth Council co-chair Rosalie LaBillois denounced the internal politics that has dominated the meetings to date, taking valuable time off the file.
“Every time you decide to fight, you forget the children and young people you ever swore to protect,” she told chiefs across Canada.
“Make no mistake, at this very moment there is a First Nations child crying out for his mother, wanting to bring his family back home. I request this gathering to take a moment more about all our children.” Think who needs a voice to defend himself in this world.
More votes on the second day of the Assembly of the First Nations General Assembly
New Brunswick Representatives in LaBilloise historical delegation to the Vatican in March and April, which helped bolster Pope Francis’s reconciliation tour of Canada later this month.
A longtime member of the AFN’s youth council, he urged chiefs, especially those who have used child welfare in their election platforms, to consider how they are serving their little ones.
“The well-being of our people should always be at the fore in our decision making,” she said. “If you want to measure the results of your leadership, you must look to our children.”
His remarks received a standing ovation and later at least three chiefs apologized.
Since Tuesday, much discussion time has been allocated to concerns with the leadership in the AFN, including the controversial suspension of the executive council’s national head, Roseanne Archibald.
Archibald had expressed serious concerns about alleged corruption and financial irregularities within the organisation. Four staff members had also filed complaints of harassment at the workplace against him.
The national chief claims those employees requested more than $1 million in payments, which he refused to provide. Their complaints are now the subject of HR investigation.
On Tuesday, 252 of the 278 chiefs and proxies rejected a motion to continue Archibald’s suspension, which has been deemed unlawful. Forty chiefs and had attended behind the scenes.
On Wednesday, the motion to bring a no-confidence motion on his leadership was also rejected.
AFN members end temporary suspension of national chief
The national chief said he was proud of Labillois for expressing his sincere concerns about the coast-to-coast leadership before hundreds in the assembly.
“I was a youth activist myself and my entire career has been about telling the truth and sometimes telling the truth to power, so I support Rosalie,” she said in an interview.
The chiefs and proxies voted Thursday on a proposal to confirm Archibald’s status as national head and call for an independent forensic audit of the AFN, as well as a digital investigation into alleged breaches of communications within its secretariat over the past decade. Slated to deliver.
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