A historic move forward for First Nations families and children

Quebec recently adopted the Loi de la protection sociale atikamekw d’Opitciwan (LPSAO), an act that allows the community of Opitciwan to be completely autonomous in matters of child protection.

Representatives from the Conseil des Atikamekw d’Opitciwan, Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) and First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission (FNQLHSSC) celebrated the historic move forward on Nov. 10.

“We finally have the means to ensure the wellness of our children, while promoting and guaranteeing accessibility to preventive services in an environment that is safe, suitable and developmentally appropriate for our families,” said Jean-Claude Mequish, Chief of Opitciwan, in a Nov. 10 press release. “The child’s best interests lie at the heart of our approach and several elements, lacking in provincial and federal jurisdictions, will be determining factors in the LPSAO, including the child’s cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual identity, heritage and education.”

Derek Montour, President of the FNQLHSSC Board of Directors, said outstanding work has been carried out since the Act was passed in 2019.

“Today, we are pleased to see this work come to fruition. I would like to congratulate all the people who have participated, directly or indirectly, in the development of the LPSAO,” said Montour. “Opitciwan is a true source of inspiration for our peoples, and I am confident that the children and families of this community will benefit from all the help and support they need.”

To date, nine notices of intention for 15 communities have been sent to the federal and provincial governments to exercise legislative jurisdiction over child and family services, as well as four requests for 22 communities to enter into a co-ordination agreement regarding the exercise of this jurisdiction. The release said that other communities will likely follow Opitciwan’s lead in the future.

“I want to commend the determination of the Atikamekw Nation of Opitciwan. By affirming our right to self-determination, we are creating a system that will help eliminate the overrepresentation of our children in the youth protection system,” said Ghislain Picard, Chief of the AFNQL. “We have been collectively investing for over three decades to take back responsibility for the wellness of our children and communities. Our children are the hope and future of our peoples and they deserve that we join forces to offer them a promising future. Nobody is better positioned to do this than us.”

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