For hundreds of years our people took care of one another; they lived their lives according to ancient traditions, customs and values that were passed along from one generation to the next. Families helped and supported one another and worked together to protect our most revered members: our children and our Elders. When families had difficulties or when children required care beyond what their natural parents could provide, extended family or community members stood in as alternative caregivers. They ways in which the extended family and community cared for our children were and still are embedded in traditional community customs. Foreign and authoritarian laws and methods that all but made our people, our traditions, and our culture extinct eventually displaced these customs.
The federal 1965 Welfare Agreement had a devastating effect on our traditional family and community systems and structures as non anishinaabe child protection authorities removed our children from their families at an alarming rate and placed them in non aboriginal foster homes. The placement of anishinaabe children with predominantly non-anishinaabe families often far away from their families of origin, communities and traditional ways of life, fractured our families and communities; demonstrated a blatant disregard for inherent tribal authority; and left our families ill-equipped to deal with the massive social implications which evolved in the absence of generations of children.
In the absence of community-based support programs to help our families become stronger and healthier, and prevention programs to reinforce and promote cultural pride and family integrity, many of our communities saw several generations of their children become socialized to non-anishinaabe cultures. Language was lost; heritage and traditional customs were forgotten; and anishinaabe family and tribal systems eroded. One consequence of the separation of anishinaabe children from their culture, clans, and community is the “Split Feather Syndrome”, an emotional state characterized by a profound sense of not knowing whom one is or where one fits in. The emotional trauma of identity confusion and a concurrent sense of not belonging underlie the majority of difficulties our people have in every aspect of their lives. Unfortunately the trauma created by the residential school experience of forced integration into a foreign culture and belief system is still felt today as parents grapple with lost identity.
During a round of reforms in the 1980’s, the Child and Family Services Act, was amendment to include provision under Part X “Indian and Native Child and Family Services” which began the recognition of Customary Care practice, unique to anishinabe children and families.
Currently, the majority of the children in our care, 86%, are in Customary Care placements. This means they are either with family members, extended family members, in their own community, or with family outside their community.