Indian Association of Alberta Child Welfare Needs: Assessment and Recommendations
The extension of child welfare services to Indian people following World War II has had serious effects upon Indian children, families and communities. In the past decade, several theories have been extended in an attempt to explain the causal factors of the high proportion of Native children in care; however, these theories generally propose solutions based on the assimilation of Indian people into “mainstream society”. Assimilation of a people has often been described in the context of a colonial model. It is within the scope of this paper to examine the principles and practices of child welfare from a colonial perspective. Using the colonial model as a theoretical orientation is useful for two reasons. This model not only offers an historical description of Euro-Indian relations, but it also offers solutions which promote the cultural preservation of Indian nations.
Present Day Orientation
The Native Community’s concern for their childrens’ welfare was brought to critical point by the tragic, untimely death of a 17 year old Native child by his own hand. Once the facts surrounding this tragedy were revealed an awareness was created from which White and Native communities can now act; for Indian Child Welfare is now on the agendas of the respective Native and White governments.
Among the Native Child Welfare issues brought to light resulted from data indicating that Native children in Alberta represent a disproportionately high percentage of children in the Child Welfare programs. In fact, Alberta government statistics indicate that Native children are more likely to come into contact with child protection services at a frequency six and one-half times greater than do other children of the Province.
In response, the Indian Association of Alberta initiated this project; designed to provide a basic structure with principles from which First Nations can begin negotiations for the control of Child Welfare programs. It is our intent to establish a picture of the issues concerning Native Child Welfare. The assessment will then determine the severity of the issues; identify gaps and strengths of the present system and describe alternative models and approaches.
Present statistics indicate the inadequacies associated with services to Native families and communities. The questions that need asking are: Why has the Native community allowed this to go on? What is happening for the child and the family as children are removed from their communities? Whose needs are being met? Native people have argued that, historically, the services provided to them contain little recognition of Native culture and provide only meagre support for the socio-economic conditions plaguing their communities.
In addition to these inadequacies, the other factors precipitating this study are; Alberta Social Services recently implemented campaign for the privatization of Child Welfare programs, and the enactment of a new Child Welfare services to the First Nations. However, the pivotal force of these concerns is Native peoples’ feelings of powerlessness over the control of their own lives, symptomatic in the lives of their children. As a result, in Part 1 the research begins a dialogue in its examination of these issues and the dynamics of the relationships among Indians and between Indians and Whites. Then, it examines the dynamics of the types of relationships which gave rise to the tragedy of Richard Cardinal’s life and death.
Although statistics is an important western scientific research tool, inherent in it are many feelings of inadequacy. Ideally, the best one can hope for when attempting to use quantitative means to determine the depth and degree of human social dysfunctions, is an indication of dysfunction.
Part 2 will discuss problems with, not only analyzing data, but also the question of how to gather, and insure the accuracy of the information gathered. A large part of the problem has to do with previous research concerning Native behaviour, those studies assume some standard of behaviour for the Non-Native community then applies that standard to research involving Natives. Further, Part 2 discusses the need for knowledge of human history.
Part 3 looks at accepted western scientific paradigms, research models and attendant research methodologies, and discusses their limitations and failings in terms of the study of Native behaviour. The discussion then presents a new paradigm, research model and methodologies, explaining the advantage to these approaches.
Part 4 presents “Indian Science”, the process through which Native peoples come to knowledge. This part also includes a discussion of “Western Science” from a Native point of view and, the discussion includes the concerns of its own practitioners. Western Science is both ethnocentric and imperialistic; it recognizes no other science save its own, then uses that same science as the justification for the denial as the existence of any other science. However, many western scientists are searching for a new paradigm, fro they have come to realize what Albert Einstein stated fifty years ago. “The system of Newtonian thought does not work.”
Part 5 is a presentation of analysis and findings which will be presented differently from “standard” research. Rather than presenting statistics, this section presents a profile of four generations; Greatgrandparents, Grandparents, Parents, and Children. The findings and recommendations come from the people themselves.
Part 6 is a presentation of specific recommendations on management principles which go beyond programatic concern; will deal with specific tasks which can begin immediately and some fundamental principles for approaches and development.
The objective of the assessment is to identify a basic structure with principles from which First Nations can approach the issue of Child Welfare programs.