In 1990, Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services Corporation (NALSC) received direction from the Chiefs of Treaty No. 9 to create and promote alternative and community-based justice systems for its members. The Talking Together Program was created in 2002 to address the child welfare needs of 51 First Nation communities in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) territory.
What is Talking Together?
Talking Together is a restorative approach for dealing with child welfare issues. The program is an alternative dispute resolution option created in 2002 to address the child welfare needs of families from the NAN communities.
First Nations people lost many children due to the Indian residential school system and the Sixties Scoop when many children were adopted out into non-native homes. Today, the child and family services system continues to have enormous repercussions.
Amendments to the Child & Family Services Act R.C.O., in 2000, put increased pressure on agencies to remove children from the community. Aboriginal children are now more at risk of being taken from their families. If a child under the age of six years is in care for a period of 12 months (it need not be continuous) the child is in danger of becoming a Crown Ward. This means that all parental rights are lost to the parents and in many cases, the children are lost to the community. In our remote communities where Courts are only held once every three months, it does not take long before the clock runs out. Time is of the essence. We need a better way.
The Talking Together program is about keeping children and families together, and not apart.
The Circle Process
Talking Together is a circular process. ‘A Circle’ is a basic Aboriginal symbol. It is also a symbol of Indian Justice. In a Circle, there is no right or left, nor is there a beginning or an end. Every point (person) seated in a circle looks to the same center as the focus. The Circle is the symbol of justice because it is perfect, unbroken, and a simile of unity and oneness. It conveys the image of people gathering together for discussion.
Goal of Talking Together
The Talking Together Program is a process based on traditional circles. Circles were used since time immemorial to restore harmony between family members.
The goal of Talking Together is to bring participants together to discuss family problems in a non-judgmental way. The Circle is composed of family members, front-line workers, agency representatives, community elders and Band Council representatives.
In the Circle, participants look at who has been affected and how they have been affected by the problems that the family is experiencing. Secondly, in the Circle, participants are asked: What can be done? If and when an agreement is reached, it is used as the basis for the Plan of Care.
The ultimate goal of Talking Together is to keep families together as a healthy and strong unit.
The Talking Together Program deals with NAN First Nation families who become involved with a child welfare agency. The program services both on and off reserve Band members.
Talking Together Program Staff consists of a Director of Services, an Assistant/Coordinator, and five Facilitators to deliver the Talking Together Program to the NAN First Nation communities.