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Native Women’s Shelter splits with Quebec youth protection agency, citing racism

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MONTREAL – The Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal said Tuesday it has suspended meetings with health officials overseeing the province’s English-language youth-protection system because of the agency’s alleged failure to address systemic racism.

“It’s almost like history keeps repeating itself,“ said Nakuset, the shelter’s executive director, who only uses one name. ”We keep bringing it to the table, to the attention of upper-level management, but it goes to the void.“

The shelter informed regional health authorities in August about why it was refusing to meet with representatives of Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, Nakuset said, adding that Indigenous youth in the system wouldn’t be impacted.

“It’s important to note (while) we are suspending meetings with upper management, we are 100 per cent committed to the Indigenous children,” Nakuset told reporters during a virtual news conference.

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“What we need is for the institution to make some changes because it’s like running into a wall.”

Nakuset said the problems inside Batshaw have been noted in multiple reports, including a 2019 study called “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,” produced by her group and a research team at Concordia University. That report said Inuit children and families had been told not to speak Inuktitut while on supervised visits, adding that there had been no dedicated group to study concerns from Montreal’s Indigenous communities.

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Some of those issues were echoed in a May 2021 report by Quebec’s human rights commission, which noted that encouraging people against speaking their native languages runs contrary to cultural safety practices.

The recommendations from the two reports were also included in reports from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and from Quebec’s Viens and Laurent commissions, which studied Indigenous services and youth protection.

Mel Lefebvre, who is on the shelter’s board of directors, said that despite all the reports and recommendations on how to improve services to Indigenous children in the province, Batshaw Youth and Family Centres has not changed.

“At this point, we are at a loss at what more youth protection needs to make substantial changes,” she told reporters Tuesday.

In a statement Tuesday, the regional health authority that oversees Batshaw said it regretted the departure of the shelter from the awareness committee. It said its goal was to support “adapted services that meet needs and that are offered in an environment where Indigenous people feel completely safe, on all fronts.”

The health authority also said it was working to implement the recommendations of the Viens and Laurent Commissions.

Nakuset turned to the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRAAR), a Montreal civil rights group, whose executive director told reporters Tuesday that the shelter might need to file a complaint with the province’s human rights commission.

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Fo Niemi said that sometimes the legal route is the only way to break down systemic barriers.

“Unless the complaints and lawsuits come, things don’t change,” Niemi said. “This situation has to be faced in a very firm and concrete manner so as to avoid this ongoing denial and trivialization of many of these concerns that have been identified in commission after commission.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2021.

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