The director of youth protection services for one of three different regions in Quebec went before the province’s public inquiry Wednesday and testified that the agency is striving to improve relations with Indigenous peoples.
Marlene Gallagher also talked about the challenges involved – including language.
To explain, she used an example.
“He said to me, ‘Ma’am, do you know how director of youth protection translates into Innu?'” explained Gallagher. “In Innu, it means someone who takes away children.”
Other regional directors of youth protection services acknowledged that when it comes to Indigenous relations, there’s a lot of work to be done.
“They’ve explained to us there’s a lack of confidence in us,” said Michelyne Gagne.
The inquiry is examining the relationship between some of Quebec’s public services and Indigenous peoples.
It was called after news broke about provincial police abusing Indigenous women in the Val d’Or area northwest of Montreal.
Most of Wednesday at the inquiry was about the new measures to change the frayed relationship.
They include mandatory sensitivity training for youth protection workers, incorporating cultural ceremonies and traditions when meeting with families, and a new law that will give more power to communities over youth protection.
“Presently in Quebec, there are two communities that are applying to obtain the power to manage their (youth protection) services,” said Gallagher.
The law also emphasizes keeping children in their communities.
“The intention behind this process is to keep children close to significant people in their lives,” said Phillipe Gagne, another regional director. “Who have the capacity to preserve the cultural identity of an Indigenous child.”
While the directors acknowledged there are problems, they also said better days are ahead.
“We don’t come here today with the pretension that all our intervention workers work according to the traditions and cultures of First Nations,” said Michelyne Gagne. “Nor that their interventions are perfect, nor that the entire organization of services responds to the needs of the community – but rest assured that we have the will to make it happen.”
The province’s youth protection law that will give communities more power is expected to be in place by June 2018.
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