Two social-media videos show a newborn baby girl being taken from the arms of her Indigenous mother by Manitoba social workers and police – an apprehension that First Nations leaders say is all too common in a child-welfare system biased against Indigenous people.
The videos, broadcast live on Thursday on Facebook by the woman’s uncle, show her sitting in a hospital bed, cradling her baby and rocking back and forth as social workers and police explain that the baby is being taken into care.
The woman is crying softly and being hugged by relatives, one of whom is wailing in sorrow. Eventually, police place the newborn into a car seat and take her away.
The mother was not told when she might see her baby again.
Statistics from the Manitoba government show newborn apprehensions occur, on average, about once a day in the province. About 90 per cent of kids in care are Indigenous.
The videos, which had been viewed more than 400,000 times by Friday afternoon, offered a rare glimpse into a normally private matter and quickly led to calls for change.
“The system that we’re subject to is not a system for our people,” Grand Chief Garrison Settee, who represents northern Manitoba First Nations, said on Friday at a news conference with the mother, her family and other community leaders.
“We want to take back our babies because they belong to us. They belong … in their own culture, in their own societies, among their own people.”
The woman, her baby and other family members cannot be identified under Manitoba law.
The child was taken away because of a false accusation that the mother was drunk when she arrived at the hospital to give birth, the woman’s aunt said.
The videos show family members telling social workers the accusation was not true. They ask whether the baby could stay with one of them instead of being taken away. The request is denied.
All the while, the mother is sitting on her hospital bed, cradling her baby. On Friday, she recalled getting strength from her infant daughter.
“I was blindsided … and it’s just astonishing how far this had to go,” she said.
“When I was holding my baby, she was actually the one who was keeping me content and strong and focused. And I’m still holding on to that.”
Cora Morgan, a family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said the mother may have been targeted for a “birth alert” – a note to social workers that an expectant mother is high risk – because she had another daughter who was temporarily in care several years ago.
The woman had previously sought help for addictions and with parenting from Child and Family Services, Ms. Morgan said, but was not intoxicated when she arrived at the hospital to give birth.
“In the system – as a mother, as a father, as a grandparent – they’re always deemed guilty of something, and there’s no mechanism to ever prove you’re innocent.”
The woman is hopeful that she might be reunited with her daughter shortly. The case file has been transferred from Winnipeg to an agency in the woman’s home community.
“I’m very hopeful things are going to work out in a positive way.”