From 2018-01-09

In recent weeks, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott has really begun to put her stamp on the new portfolio, with some strong words and some even stronger actions.

Among other things, she delivered a strong rebuke of Manitoba's planned reforms to the child welfare system, took journalists to task for "sloppy" reporting on Indigenous issues, started a fundamental reform of how Ottawa delivers funding to First Nations, and put an ambitious timetable in place for dealing with the persistent problem of the lack of safe drinking water in many First Nations communities.

Much was expected of the Trudeau government on the Indigenous file. But for the first two years of its mandate, Ottawa has spent far more time promising action and apologizing for inaction than actually acting.

So it's refreshing to see Dr. Philpott roll up her sleeves and start delivering some concrete initiatives, along with some sharp elbows.

A key role of the Indigenous Services Minister is to push her own government, the provinces and territories, and the public to acknowledge and confront systemic failures. 

One of the most urgent issues that needs to be dealt with is child welfare, which Dr. Philpott has rightly described as a "humanitarian crisis."

There are more Indigenous children in state care today than were in the infamous residential school system, and the result is the same – the suffering of children, the destruction of families and the loss of culture and language in communities.

In Manitoba alone, there are 10,700 children in state care, and 90 per cent of them are Indigenous, although only 17 per cent of the province's population is Indigenous.

Under the current system, child welfare agencies get funding based on how many First Nations children they place in care, which creates a perverse incentive.

That is being replaced by a system of block grants, but also with subsidies for guardianship, which could encourage the removal of Indigenous children from their communities and permanent placement with non-Indigenous families. 

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