Indigenous leader accuses Saskatchewan of delaying child welfare reform for jobs

REGINA — An Indigenous leader in Saskatchewan is accusing the provincial government of keeping the status quo when it comes to child welfare because of social work jobs.

David Pratt, a vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents the province's 74 First Nations, has joined the Opposition NDP in pressing the government on what it's doing to transfer jurisdiction of Indigenous child welfare to their communities.

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Pratt said the number of Indigenous children in care in Saskatchewan amounts to a crisis, second only to rates in Manitoba.

The federal Liberal government introduced legislation earlier this year with the hope of reforming child welfare and reducing the over-representation of Indigenous kids in foster care.

"Our 17 agencies — we're well prepared. Saskatchewan First Nations are ready to take over," Pratt said Wednesday.

"There's no way non-Indigenous people can implement First Nations culture."

Pratt said he believes the provincial government is dragging its heels because of bureaucracy and wanting to maintain jobs.

"I'm talking about social workers, right. Because a lot of times we're an industry," he said.

Pratt said he thinks there's also a lack of accountability about what happens to Indigenous children in foster care.

Social Services Minister Paul Merriman disagrees. He said the province is working with Indigenous agencies to deliver child welfare and has successful partnerships with organizations like the Saskatoon Tribal Council.

Whether on or off reserve, the province wants to make sure a child has contact with their family and he's open to working with First Nations and Metis groups to help recruit more Indigenous caregivers, he said.

"Social services never wants to take children into care. That is always a last resort," Merriman said.

There are new programs to help keep children with their parents, he said.

Merriman said he hopes child welfare reform will be discussed next week when he meets with his provincial counterparts and three federal ministers.

"We want to make sure that that federal legislation complements and respects what we are doing within the provincial government right now with our First Nations."

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