‘This is all about the future of our children and youth’: Niigaanshkaawin Project, Tikinagan prepares for Forum

Thirty First Nations are about to embark on a journey to reimagine the future of child and family services in their communities at the Niigaanshkaawin Forum, which will run Feb 14-16 in Thunder Bay.

The Forum is the first step in helping shape the pathway for Tikinagan Child & Family Services and their 30 First Nations in deciding and implementing the right path for their Child Welfare systems.

Robin Bunting, Niigaanshkaawin Project Manager

Robin Bunting, Niigaanshkaawin Project Manager, understands the impacts of child welfare after being in the system as a young girl. “This is all about the future of our children and youth, as well their families,” explains Bunting, a member of Constance Lake and Lac Seul First Nation. “Each First Nation deserves the right to take care of our children. Our Treaty Rights didn’t include the rights to take care of our children. They weren’t part of the discussion.”

“Our ancestors knew their inherent right to care for our children and young people,” adds Esther McKay, Niigaanshkaawin Project Manager, and Bearskin Lake band member. “This Forum is about our people wanting something different, wanting change. Niigaanshkaawin is about giving the power back to our First Nations to determine how they want to care for their support families and protect children.”

Esther McKay, Niigaanshkaawin Project Manager

Niigaanshkaawin, which means “walking ahead or first to walk ahead,” aptly describes the goal to have Tikinagan breaking trail on a new, proactive path to support and integrate Band Representative programs and First Nation law making. The project aims to fulfill the Chief’s original vision when they created the agency almost 40 years ago: Tikinagan’s original vision for each First Nation to self-govern its own child welfare laws. Community responsibility for child protection is an essential aspect of Indigenous self-government, which is key aspect of Tikinagan’s service model Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin, “everyone working together to raise our children.”

Topics the conference will explore include: Bill C-92, First Nation Representative Programs, and First Nations Law-Making Processes and Service Delivery options. The Forum will also help direct Tikinagan’s role in the future.

Bunting: “As First Nations peoples, we have lived in these systems for so long, we have lived with colonization for so long, we need to acknowledge this pain and heal from this while taking the steps towards the options set out in Bill C-92. To achieve this, it will take collaboration from everyone in our communities.

“Now is our time to revitalize our way as First Nations peoples. Our children today are proving to us that life is getting better because they want better. They are voicing it.”

The conference allocated space for three representatives from each First Nation to attend in-person. Virtual attendance is also available via online registration. Registration details to come.

The conference will be held at the Delta Hotel in Thunder Bay.     

Learn more at niigaanshkaawin.org.