With a simple plea, an Indigenous woman who says she's been fighting to get her three children back from Manitoba's child welfare system for 10 years lays out her next plan.
Tamara Malcolm, who currently lives in Ontario's Serpent River First Nation with her husband, young daughter and oldest son, started a GoFundMe page this month to raise money to hire a lawyer and explore her options "for a legal case against those responsible for the negligence in my, and my children's, case."
As of Monday, Malcolm had raised $2,870, which she wrote on Twitter that she'd used to retain Toronto lawyer and First Nations advocate Katherine Hensel. With the help of Hensel and the financial support raised on her page, Malcolm will be suing the agencies responsible for keeping her children from her, Hensel told HuffPost Canada in an interview.
Malcolm, 34, has had "her life in order for many years," Hensel said. She has a "healthy home and family," and that's been known to the children's aid authorities in Winnipeg for quite some time, Hensel added.
Yet Malcolm's children have "languished" in foster care for a decade, she added, where they've been separated from each other, and denied their family and cultural upbringing.
These children will spend the rest of their lives recovering from their childhood.Lawyer Katherine Hensel
They have two legal objectives, Hensel said. First, to return Malcolm's two youngest boys to her care (the eldest aged out of the system and moved back home). Second, to redress and remedy the "very real harm and trauma" that's been caused by the actions of the state, she said.
"These children will spend the rest of their lives recovering from their childhood," Hensel said.
Tamara &her husband Jeremiah run 2 businesses, have a 7yr old girl , had 3 home assessments. Still Winnipeg CFS won't give her 2 boys back. pic.twitter.com/3tCrsdl8BD— Christi Belcourt (@christibelcourt) October 22, 2017
"This case represents much of what's wrong with child welfare and child protection in Manitoba and across the county when it comes to Indigenous children and their families," Hensel said.
A common case
A spokesperson for the Manitoba government told HuffPost Canada that they cannot provide specific information about a child in their care.
But they noted that child safety is "paramount" under the Child and Family Services Act and that children are only taken into care when there are serious safety concerns that can't be resolved without removing the child.
Manitoba Government Announces Child Welfare System Reform https://t.co/rFiXfg4PAS— Manitoba Gov News (@MBGovNews) October 12, 2017
"When children are apprehended, the first priority for agencies is to fully assess reunification with the parents or guardians. Children can be reunified with their parents at any time while they are in care," the province said in an emailed statement.
"Establishing lifelong connections is critical to achieving the best outcomes for children in care. This is a fundamental element of the reforms recently announced by this Government."
There are about 11,000 children in care in Manitoba, which is the highest rate in the country, CBC previously reported. Almost 90 per cent of those children are of "Indigenous descent." Over one in five First Nations children in Manitoba spends some time in care before they turn 15 years old, noted research in a previous HuffPost Canada blog.
It's extraordinarily tragic, but it happens to many, many families.Lawyer Katherine Hensel
Earlier in October, the Manitoba government promised to reduce the number of indigenous children in provincial care.
"This is not an extraordinary case. In fact, it's quite ordinary. It's extraordinarily tragic, but it happens to many, many families, " Hensel said about Malcolm's case.
"What makes Ms. Malcolm exceptional is in her ability to muster resources and the relentlessness and energy with which she's advocated for the return of her children."
A violent history
Malcolm's three sons were apprehended in 2007 by Child and Family Services in Winnipeg, Malcolm wrote on her GoFundMe page. At the time, she was in an abusive relationship with her ex-partner, who also later discovered was also violent with her son, Malcolm wrote.
"I immediately cut off contact with him when he hurt my child and have not seen or heard from him in 10 years, it is my boys and me who continue to pay the price," Malcolm wrote.
"My two younger boys remain in foster care and there is no need for them to be. I am a business owner (Bea Beads), a traditional person who practices my culture, I am clean and sober and dedicated to my family," she wrote.
"Please help me"
Malcolm's two youngest sons are now 14 and 10 years old, Hensel confirmed.
In the last 10 years I've been told by workers and legal aid lawyers to give up. How could I? My children are my world and always will be.— Tamara Malcolm (@TamaraMStory) October 29, 2017
"Please help me bring my kids home," Malcolm wrote on the GoFundMe page, which has a fundraising goal of $50,000.
"[It's] been 10 years. [It's] been long enough. I just want my kids home and together."
Update: This story has been updated to include an emailed statement from the Manitoba government.
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