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Carrier Sekani Family Services hails Supreme Court ruling on indigenous child welfare

Carrier Sekani Family Services Chief Executive Officer Warner Adam is set to receive an honorary degree at the UNBC graduate celebration on Oct. 21. UNBC photo

Carrier Sekani Family Services, is hailing the Supreme Court  of Canada’s decision upholding the federal government’s child welfare law, affirming that First Nations, Métis and Inuit have sole authority over the protection of their children.

The unanimous decision is a setback for the Quebec government, which won a victory in 2022 when the Court of Appeal found that parts of the act overstepped federal jurisdiction. The law came into effect in 2020. It affirms that Indigenous Nations have jurisdiction over child and family services and establishes national minimum standards for the delivery of child & family services.

The Quebec government challenged the act on constitutional grounds, and the Quebec Court of Appeal struck down two sections of the Act: section 21 which provides that Indigenous laws have the force of federal law and section 22(3) which specifies that Indigenous laws prevail over provincial laws in the event of a conflict.

Quebec argued that Canada cannot hold Indigenous laws above provincial laws in a general fashion: paramountcy must be determined in a case-by-case manner.

The Supreme Court of Canada allowed an appeal of the Quebec decision, and Carrier Sekani Family Services, along with four Carrier Sekani nations, was granted intervener status. The Carrier Sekani interveners argued that the case-by-case approach has created unreasonable barriers to self-government.

“For 40 years, Cheslatta, Nadleh, Saik’uz, and Stellat’en have engaged in a variety of self-government and rights-recognition processes with Canada, including the B.C. Treaty process,” said CSFS Board President and Saik’uz First Nation Chief Priscilla Mueller. “To date, those processes have not led to concrete or positive results. We have advocated and worked very hard to change the system, we finally have our right to care for our children our way and is protected by the
constitution of Canada. Now the BC government has no choice but to ensure that it has a process to support First Nations Autonomy and inherent rights in all aspect of Indigenous well-being.”

The Court found that in enacting the Act, Parliament met Canada’s commitment to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, respond to the TRC’s Calls to Action, and avoid the uncertainties of constitutional negotiations, the slowness of treaty settlements, and conflicts associated with court settlements.

“This decision clears the way for our Nations to devote their time and resources to the work that
matters: caring for our children,” said Warner Adam, CEO of Carrier Sekani Family Services.

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