By Shari Narine
The first book written on Métis child welfare in Canada is both a professional and personal endeavour for co-editor Dr. Jeannine Carriere.
She refers to Calling Our Families Home: Metis Experience with Child Welfare as “my legacy work.”
Carriere, a professor for the School of Social Work at the University of Victoria, worked in child welfare for years, beginning in Edmonton.
She started her teaching in 1995 at Grant Macewan College (now a university) and the University of Calgary.
But Carriere, who is Métis, says this work is not only academic. She was part of the child welfare system.
“I feel very strongly that it’s a giving back to my own community, to my adopted family and to my birth family, and hopefully that it will make a difference for kids and families who interact with child welfare.
“And hopefully it will reduce the number of Métis child in care who are not identified, where people don’t know they’re Métis and don’t even try to find out or connect them to the services and cultural connections that they need,” she said.
Calling Our Families Home is the examination of a child welfare system right across the country that is failing Métis children and families.
Carriere said a scan of child welfare legislation across Canada shows it is “virtually silent” when it comes specifically to Métis children and their families. That silence includes Alberta, she notes, which has the largest Métis population in the country.
“I think that part of it is identification,” said Carriere. “I think where governments have failed is because, maybe to them, they feel … that Métis identification is too complex for them to be able to call a certain agency, like they do with First Nations, and know that there’s a certain segment of the population that is represented by those agencies.”
So instead, Métis children and families, who need cultural connections and culturally-relevant services, are not receiving them.
Carriere is hopeful that the Daniels court decision, which clearly places Métis under federal jurisdiction, will bring some resolution. She also hopes it will lead to a federally-funded national conference on Métis child welfare.
“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? Which would be complex, yes and perhaps, at times, frustrating until people get to the table and talk this through on how this could look for our kids and families,” she said.
But to date, she points out, the Daniels decision has had no impact.
“It’s not like everyone has jumped to changing things yet,” she said. “People are not coming forward from the ministries to engage and say, ‘How do we support you as an agency to help in delivering services to Métis children and families in this province, this jurisdiction’?”
Where the federal government has failed to take action and the provinces have yet to implement changes, Carriere is hopeful that Calling Our Families Home can be both enlightening and educational. She wants ministry personnel responsible for policy and practice in child welfare and front line workers to read the book.
“The more we get out there and speak, hopefully we can inform people,” said Carriere, who notes that after the book launch in Edmonton on March 28, a presentation will be made in Calgary at the annual conference for the Alberta College of Social Workers.
Calling Our Families Home offers a wide range of material on topics such as adoption, kinship care, Métis identification, Métis women, the roles of both Métis women and men in child welfare, and Métis research methodologies focused on how to do community-based research in Métis communities.
There is also an “amazing letter,” said Carriere, from a two-spirit adult to two-spirit Métis youth in care.
“We have a chapter that I just personally love. It’s called ‘Métis Voices,’ where we interviewed Métis Elders and social workers in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and we featured some of their quotes and the teachings from the Elders,” she said.
Carriere hopes Calling Our Families Home will provide the much needed impetus to take action.
“We’d like (those involved in child welfare) to step back and really take a look at policy and practise and work with the Métis agencies and work to support the development of Métis agencies, who can cut across a lot of the struggles that perhaps the ministry is having, or thinks it’s having, around Métis identification and culturally relevant services to kids,” she said.
Carriere co-edited Calling Our Families Home: Métis Experience with Child Welfare with Dr. Catherine Richardson, who is a Métis scholar and associate professor of social work at the Université de Montreal.