Author: Narine, Shari
Date published: October 1, 2010
Journal code: ALSW
In the 22 years Peter Strikes With A Gun and Jeannie Provost have been opening their door on the Piikani First Nation to foster children from the community, they have given a home to over 60 children.
"We very much need more Aboriginal foster homes. That is my concern," said Strikes With A Gun, former chief of the Piikani First Nation. "I've never seen the interest from Treaty 6 and Treaty 8. I feel that in our twilight time now, what's going to happen? Is there anybody who really cares about the current situation relating to our children?"
Strikes With A Gun served as chief for 10 years and prior to that was coordinator and manager for a drug and alcohol program. Serving in both roles, he is acutely aware of the effects low employment rates, poor housing and substance abuse have on both adults and children.
"So I have an insight into a lot of the situation. I believe our children are really in need of caring and to be able to understand their roots and some of the traditions and values that lie in every individual," said Strikes With A Gun.
When the provincial government started looking at educating their front line workers about Aboriginal needs and issues, Strikes With A Gun became involved in training. It opened his eyes to what was needed and hooked him and Provost into the life.
"Because of our traditional history, my wife and I just have that value of always being around for children," said Strikes With A Gun.
When he started fostering, he also became involved with the Alberta Foster Parents Association and serves as director for his region on the board. Gerald Cunningham, a Métis from the High Prairie region, also sits as a director on the AFPA board.
It's important to get the voices of the First Nations and Métis people, said AFPA president Norm Brownell, who noted that his organization coordinates with the provincial government in helping with Aboriginal awareness training for foster families, the majority of whom are non-Aboriginal.
AFPA has done recruitment throughout the province to attract Aboriginal foster families as has the provincial government. Close to 60 per cent of children in care are Aboriginal and only 10 to 15 per cent are placed in Aboriginal foster homes.
"We need more Aboriginal foster homes, but we're struggling to get enough foster homes for kids in general," said Brownell.
Strikes With A Gun believes the reasons that put Aboriginal children into foster care are the same reasons that restrict Aboriginal people from opening their homes to others.
"The majority of First Nations do have the complication of housing and lack of opportunities and it relates to the standards and being able to enjoy life. We're struggling most of the time . . . sedating the pain of every day life with drugs and alcohol," he said.
Kinship, where children are placed with family members, is traditionally how Aboriginal people helped each other and is a form of care that is being embraced by the province.
Strikes With A Gun sees kinship as a "natural part of empowering children. The kinships do have the path to better relate to those children than being in care off the reserve." However, he holds more resources and training are needed to make kinship care a success.
AFPA is undertaking a new campaign this month to attract both foster and adoptive families.
"What's success?" asked Brownell. "Anytime you can recruit several foster families or adoptive families, that's success."
BY SHARI NARINE