Bilingual guides explain how to interpret federal Act on Indigenous child welfare

Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge creates resources to help navigate new law

Sarah Kent - 14 August 2020

The Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge is helping Indigenous communities and front-line professionals apply a new law that affirms Indigenous communities have inherent jurisdiction over the welfare of their children.

The Lodge has produced a library of guides in both English and French that unpack “An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families.” Formerly known as Bill C-92, the Act came into force on January 1.

The Act recognizes the inherent jurisdiction of Indigenous communities and nations to write their own laws regarding child and family services. It also sets national minimum standards that must be adhered to immediately, says UAlberta Law professor Hadley Friedland, co-lead of the Lodge.

But there are questions and concerns about the Act that may make it a challenge to implement, she says.

“In order for any Act to really fulfil its intended purposes, people on the ground need to understand the law, interpret it in light of its purpose and do the hard work of applying it in unique factual situations. These guides are designed to take some of the uncertainty and guess-work out of doing this,” says Friedland.

Six guides are currently available for social workers, service providers, health care professionals, lawyers, Indigenous governing bodies and community members. The guides provide practical support, covering topics such as compliance for social workers, prenatal provisions for healthcare professionals and implementation for legal professionals.

“The national standards came into force January 1st, and we are still hearing that many legal and social work professionals are not aware the law has changed,” says Friedland. “We want to produce high-quality resources to bridge this gap so the law is followed.”

In addition to writing and publishing guides on the new Act, the Lodge has created workshops, a webinar and teach-ins on how to build on the benefits of this new Act.

The Lodge is a joint initiative of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law and Faculty of Native Studies. One of its mandates is to produce useful, accessible and practical governance resources and public legal education.