Bringing the “invisible” children into focus.

Dr. Jeannine Carrière’s keynote address calls for a national focus to stop Métis children from falling through the cracks.

 

In many ways they are invisible. Uncounted. Unlabeled. Uprooted from their families, usually for economic reasons, and stripped of their heritage, they move like shades through the child welfare system unless (or until) something tragic happens, then suddenly they have names, identities and tragic stories. There are too many examples, and too many names. Richard Cardinal who hanged himself at 17 after being forced to move foster homes more than 28 times throughout his short life. 18-year-old, Alex Gervais who jumped from a motel window … Nevaeh Michaud… Patricia Lee Evoy… Carly Fraser. For every one of these children and youth whose names and heritage are ironically only known after their tragic deaths, there are too many children and families damaged by a child welfare system that has never acknowledged them.

 

“Well, the book I recently co-edited with Dr. Cathy Richardson, is the first book ever written on Métis children in care,” says Dr. Jeannine Carrière, “which should tell you something. There is very little literature on Métis experiences in child welfare systems and no national data collected on the number of Métis children involved with child welfare systems. There has never been a national study of these realities.”

 

Carrière, who will give a keynote address at the first National Child Welfare Conference (NCWC) Oct. 24 – 26 in Calgary, says it’s time for a national conversation to make these children visible again, and to ensure their culture and heritage isn’t lost when they enter the child welfare system.

 

“The little research that has been done is troubling,” says Carrière, “the research reflects the mass movement of Métis children outside of their birth communities and the fact that Métis children are often misidentified as simply "Aboriginal" or "White."”

 

This reality reflects the “limbo” that has existed for generations, mostly due to the fact that child welfare legislation across Canada is virtually silent when it comes specifically to Métis children and their families. As Justice Edwin Kimelman wrote in 1985, the result of this silence is that “the judicial obligation to represent the rights and needs of Métis children are not acknowledged.”

 

Without a clear mandate it’s perhaps not surprising that in the Canadian system children are rarely identified as Métis and their connection to their identity, culture and community is often lost. Like many others, Carrière had hoped that the Daniels decision, which essentially put Métis affairs under the jurisdiction of the Federal government, might begin to address this situation. So far it hasn’t.

 

“With the federal decision, wouldn’t it be timely to have that kind of conference and really put some good processes together to have this dialogue?” Asks Carrière, who hopes the first annual NCWC will perhaps begin this national conversation. “I think it will be complex, obviously and perhaps even frustrating at times. But we’ll never change the current situation until people get to the table and talk this through, and we owe that to our kids and families.”