Empowering Indigenous communities: latest coordination agreements under Bill C-92

Three more First Nations recently entered into coordination agreements pursuant to An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families (“Bill C-92”).

Splatsin, Secwépemc Nation (“Splatsin”), the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia entered into an agreement on March 24, 2023. The Nation of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (“KI”), the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario signed another agreement on March 31, 2023. On the same day, Loon River First Nation (“Loon River”), Lubicon Lake Band (“Lubicon Lake”), Peerless Trout First Nation (“Peerless Trout”), the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta also signed a coordination agreement.

Splatsin is the first Indigenous community in British Columbia to sign a coordination agreement. The coordination agreement with Loon River, Lubicon Lake and Peerless Trout is the first coordination agreement that the Province of Alberta is a party to and is also the first multi-Nation coordination agreement. The coordination agreement with KI is the second coordination agreement in Ontario and the seventh in Canada.

Bill C-92, which we discussed in a previous blog, alters the child and family services (“CFS”) landscape in Canada with respect to Indigenous children. It has two fundamental purposes:

  1. to establish minimum standards for how CFS must be provided to Indigenous children; and
  2. to recognize and affirm that Indigenous peoples’ inherent right of self-government includes jurisdiction over CFS. Specifically, it recognizes and affirms their right to make and administer their own CFS laws.

Further, Bill C-92 provides that when an Indigenous community intends to exercise their legislative authority over CFS under the Bill C-92 framework, they may request that the federal and applicable provincial and territorial governments enter into a coordination agreement. These agreements essentially set out the relationship between the various governments and the mechanisms to support the Indigenous community exercising their inherent law-making power over CFS. As discussed in a previous blog, coordination agreements can include any coordination measures related to the effective exercise of the Indigenous community’s legislative authority, including:

  1. the roles and responsibilities of each government;
  2. fiscal arrangements to allow the Indigenous community to effectively implement their jurisdiction and to secure long-term positive outcomes for their children;
  3. jurisdictional matters (for example, who provides CFS to Indigenous children living off reserve and to non-Indigenous children living on reserve, on an emergency or after-hours basis);
  4. supports to enable their children to exercise their rights effectively; and
  5. the transferring of jurisdiction and information sharing.

Splatsin’s coordination agreement will support their ongoing exercise of jurisdiction over CFS under their Spallumcheen Indian Band Bylaw #3-1980, a “Bylaw for the Care of Our Indian Children” (the “Bylaw”) that they passed in 1980 and Secwepemc law. Splatsin delivers comprehensive family preservation support and protection services to their children and families regardless of where they live. Their coordination agreement addresses, among other things, the coordination of services and needs-based funding that supports the principle of substantive equality. Over the next 10 years, they will receive $136.2 million to support their ongoing delivery of CFS to their members.

The Nation of KI provides CFS to their members pursuant to their Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Dibenjikewin Onaakonikewin. Pursuant to this law, their CFS agency provides prevention services and culturally appropriate care as well as repatriation and advocacy services. Their coordination agreement provides for $93.8 million in funding from the Government of Canada to be provided over the next four years to support the implementation of their CFS law. In addition, KI continues to negotiate a funding agreement with the province of Ontario.

On November 20, 2021, the members of Loon River, Lubicon Lake and Peerless Trout approved their Awaśak Wiyasiwêwin. The office of the Onikanew is responsible for coordinating the provision of CFS to the members of these three northern Alberta First Nations. Their coordination agreement includes $149.4 million in funding over the next five years to support them in bringing their children home.

In 2021, Cowessess First Nation was the first Indigenous community to sign a coordination agreement. Wabaseemoong Independent Nations became the second in 2022. Peguis First Nation and Louis Bull Tribe signed their coordination agreements in early 2023.

MLT Aikins LLP has a team of lawyers with experience assisting Indigenous communities draft their own CFS laws. We are happy to assist Indigenous communities at all stages of drafting, enacting and implementing their CFS laws, including negotiating coordination agreements. Contact us to learn more.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.