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Widening the Story - Artifact 2

Colonial Human Betterment: Assimilation as a Form of Elimination in Child and Family Welfare


The image of the Tekakwitha Indian Mission letter below was selected by Mona Stonefish to show the demeaning and objectifying ways that white settler organizations steal ᓂᑕᑦ ᐊᓂᔑᓂᓂᐊᐧᐠ (First Nations Peoples’) children from their families. This letter references a history in which child welfare agents have placed First Nations children in white settler homes for eugenic assimilation and elimination.1(footnote) Recent reports indicate that these systems still remove First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children from their homes at a much higher rate than white settler children.2(footnote)

Children’s Aid Societies are like Indian Residential School. They both broke apart our families to try to take away our language and culture. They both lie to cover up abuse. They are both part of Canada’s systematic and persistent discriminatory practice of stealing First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children from their families with the goal of assimilation and elimination. They come into our homes and tell us how to do things. They rip our children away from us. The pain is made even worse when we are blamed for our own grief. Can you imagine the feelings of our parents and our community when someone rips and steals our children from our wombs, our homes, schools, or any place? ~ Mona Stonefish

In response to the ongoing crisis of ᐊᓂᔑᓂᓂᐊᐧᐠ, ᐃᓄᐃᐟ, ᒥᓇ ᐊᐱᑕᐃᐧᑯᓯᓴᓇᐠ (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis) youth in the child welfare system, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada lists five Calls to Action related specifically to reducing the number of ᐊᓂᔑᓂᓂᐊᐧᐠ, ᐃᓄᐃᐟ, ᒥᓇ ᐊᐱᑕᐃᐧᑯᓯᓴᓇᐠ (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis) children in care.3(footnote)

Yet extreme inequities continue to persist in child welfare. In 2016, over half of children (52.2%) under age 15 in Canada’s foster care system were ᐊᓂᔑᓂᓂᐊᐧᐠ, ᐃᓄᐃᐟ, ᒥᓇ ᐊᐱᑕᐃᐧᑯᓯᓴᓇᐠ (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis), despite these children being only 7.7% of the total child population. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, “There are more Indigenous children in care today than there were in residential schools at the height of their use.”4(footnote)

While white settler hierarchies reduce the rights of children to be treated as fully human, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson writes about how ᐊᓂᔑᓇᐯᐠ (Nishnaabeg) society treats children as “full citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as adults.” Children are “raised in a nest of freedom and self-determination […] [with] nonpunitive, attachment-based parenting.” A child’s discovery of the world is met with ᓴᑭᐦᐃᑐᐃᐧᐣ ᒥᓇ ᑌᐸᑫᓂᒥᑐᐃᐧᐣ (“love and trust”).5(footnote) Because of this ᐊᓂᔑᓂᓂᐃᐧ ᐊᐊᐧᔑᔕᐠ ᐅᑕᔭᓇᐊᐧ ᑌᐯᐧᐃᐧᐣ ᒥᓇ ᒪᐡᑲᐃᐧᓯᐃᐧᐣ (true and rightful power that Nishnaabeg children have), white settler society has targeted these children for assimilation and control because, according to Simpson, “[t]hey represent alternative Indigenous political systems that refuse to replicate capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and whiteness.”6(footnote)

  1. The letter is included here courtesy of Dennis Seely, who is the subject of the letter. Attorney Michelle Dauphinais Echols posted the letter online in 2018. Echols is an advocate for Native American survivors of child abuse at Catholic institutions. To learn more about the lives impacted, see Dan MacGuill, “Did a Couple Adopt a Native American Child for $10,”, Snopes Media Group, last modified March 13, 2018, (Source).

  2. Ontario Human Rights Commission 2018 report “Interrupted Childhoods: Over-representation of Indigenous and Black Children in Ontario Child Welfare.” This report uses the term “Indigenous.” This module intentionally does not use that term for the ways it obscures and undermines Nation to Nation treaty relationships. (Source)

  3. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action,” 2015, 1i-v. (Source).

  4. Ontario Human Rights Commission, “Interrupted Childhoods: Over-Representation of Indigenous and Black Children in Ontario Child Welfare” (Ontario: Ontario Human Rights Commission, February 2018), (Source).

  5. Simpson, As We Have Always Done, 3, 4, 150.

  6. Simpson, As We Have Always Done, 41.