Ontario to stop allowing the practice of birth alerts – child welfare agencies notify a hospital when they believe a newborn may need protection – at the end of 2020 , but First Nation leaders say it is still happening at the hospital in Thunder Bay.
In response to a call to action from the 2019 Inquiry into the Murders and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), the province ordered an end to birth alerts that have long been reported to affect Indigenous families. The parents are not notified of these warnings, which could result in the agency taking the child away from the parent soon after birth.
But the heads of the Matawa First Nation say their members have told them that child welfare agencies are still making birth alert arrangements with staff at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Center. Matawa members must travel to Thunder Bay to give birth because health centers in their communities do not provide non-emergency maternity care.
“It is worrying for the Matawa Chiefs Council that – even two years after the Ontario government shut down – we are still hearing birth alerts are still in place in Thunder Bay and municipalities where Matawa women give birth to their babies. giving,” Webekie First Nation Chief Cornelius Wabase says in a release.
In the Ontario Legislature on Wednesday, Kiewatinong NDP MPP Seoul Mamakwa, who represents Matawa communities, said the birth alert is a “gross violation of the rights of the child, the mother and the indigenous community as a whole,” and called the practice “painful”. said. For our nations.”
Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Center and Diliko Anishinabek Family Care did not respond to CBC’s request for interview or comment at the time of publication.
Call to check services for Indigenous peoples
Cora McGuire-Syrrett, executive director of the Ontario Native Women’s Association, isn’t surprised to hear the allegations, calling them “the tip of the iceberg” of anti-Indigenous systemic racism at Thunder Bay’s hospital.
“We are addressing deep-rooted, systemic racist views within the system, even the practice of ending birth alerts and direction and political will. We knew this was not going to happen overnight,” she said. said.
“We need to look at the health care system, what needs to happen next. We have provided recommendations, as is truth and reconciliation. [Commission] calls for action. There are specific actions 18 to 31 for the health care system, so I’d like to know what Thunder Bay Regional Hospital has taken for any of these actions.”
McGuire-Cyrette is calling on health providers to start an open dialogue about the quality of services that Indigenous patients are receiving.
Matawa insists on change ahead of Ontario directive
Birth alerts have been turned off in much of Canada, but some controversy remains.
Long before prenatal warnings went into effect in Ontario, a Matawa community was advocating for ensuring that newborns stayed with their expectant mothers.
In 2014, a councilor at the time, Judy Desmoulin, was approached by a member living in Long Lake #58 First Nation. The woman was seven months pregnant when she received a call from the family that had raised her in foster care. She thought they were calling to catch the bus, but was told that child services had asked the family to raise their child after birth.
“Especially with this first case, I see absolutely no reason why anyone should remove this child from this family,” Desmoulin said, adding that the woman was enrolled in smoking cessation and family planning programs at the time.
Desmoulins thought she and the agency had confirmed the support plan, but when the mother went into labor, she drove 300 kilometers to Thunder Bay, just in case. She remembers law enforcement, security and social workers waiting to pick up the child.
She told them that under the Child Welfare Act, the community is entitled to ask for the well being of a child.
“And I said, ‘Okay, let’s get ready. Let’s get this kid in his stroller and let’s go,'” Desmoulins recalled. “So we did it and nobody arrested us. Nobody stopped us, and we left the hospital.
“So he told me that, yes, there was some weight in that piece of legislation. And we’ve never stopped since.”
The leadership of the First Nation went on to ensure that an advocate was present at the hospital for every mother in postpartum, and over the next eight years, Desmoulin said, any of the 100 babies born in Long Lake #58 members has also not been confiscated at birth.
When she was elected chief, Desmoulin recommended the other eight Matawa chiefs to provide equal advocacy to their members. This led to the launch of the Awashishwiigihwein (The Social Services Framework) program.
Program aims to help keep families together
Since 2019, the program aims to create supports that help keep families together. It has connected 61 families with medical professionals, completed 71 housing applications, and referred 63 families to mental health agencies, while helping 28 receive addiction services. It also provided traditional supports such as elders and ceremonies to 24 families.
For Desmoulin, the work involves attempting to eliminate a “direct link” between residential schools, the scoop of the sixties and the over-representation of Indigenous children in care.
“Long ago, statements were written to ‘get the Indian out of the child.’ This is a more modern look at how the government is perpetuating this plan,” Desmoulin says.
“The Canadian government needs to formally take up the idea of ’getting the Indian out of the child’.” that’s not going to happen.”