Treaty 8 First Nations introduce law requiring children to stay in care of their nation

Treaty 8 First Nations Grand Chief Arthur Noskey

By Jeremy Appel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter 

(ANNews) – The Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta have drafted a new law to ensure that children cannot be adopted or put into care without the consent of their First Nation. 

Treaty 8 chiefs announced the Nehiyaw and Dene Nations of Treaty No. 8 Adoption and Private Guardianship Law at a March 15 news conference, where attendees wore sweatshirts declaring “Our children are NOT for sale.” 

The law supersedes any other legislation dealing with First Nations children, leaders emphasized. 

“Treaty 8 First Nations maintain authority over our children, youth and families – that is not the right of the province or any other level of government. Currently, our children are being stolen from our Nations,” explained Chief Ivan Sawan of Loon River Cree Nation, who also serves as the Grand Chief of Child and Family Services for Treaty 8. 

“The current government process of adoption and private guardianship continues to have devastating cultural effects stripping children of their identity and diminishing inherent Treaty rights.”

The adoption and private guardianship law serves as a stopgap measure to ensure First Nations children remain in the custody of their nations while each nation develops its own detailed child and family services laws, he added. 

Chief Ramona Horseman of Horse Lake First Nation said that the new law is rooted in “natural law as designed by the creator.”

Under the recently Supreme Court of Canada-approved federal Act Respecting First Nations, Métis and Inuit Children Youth and Families, Indigenous communities have the right to establish their own child welfare laws superseding those of the province in which they’re located. 

Whitefish Lake First Nation Chief Eddie Tallman, speaking at the March 15 press conference, emphasized the need for other orders of government to respect the sovereign jurisdiction of First Nations. 

“They respect laws of other countries. Canada has treaties with other countries. Now, they have to go with our law,” he said.

Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey described the adoption law as a step “towards healing the spirit of our children, youth and families.”

“First Nations played such an important role in raising children and it is a responsibility we all share. Our children and youth should be loved and be nurtured in their own fires raised with their kinship connections and we cannot do this if provinces keep encouraging the adoption of private guardians of our children and youth,” added Noskey. 

From 2018 to 2020, Treaty 8 leadership sent multiple letters to the Alberta government — specifically to then-premier Jason Kenney and former child services minister Rebecca Schulz — ordering them to “cease and desist” from removing First Nations children from the care of their families and communities. 

Grand Chief Noskey said he hopes the provincial government will make the Nehiyaw and Dene Nations of Treaty No. 8 Adoption and Private Guardianship Law provincial legislation, but if they don’t, it will still be the law of Treaty 8 First Nations. 

“We are the government of Treaty No. 8,”  he said. 

Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta represents 24 Treaty First Nations in northern Alberta, from Smith’s Landing First Nation in the north to Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation in the south, Horse Lake  in the west, and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in the east. 

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