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No home. No options: Ontario Indigenous kids ‘damaged’ by system sending them south

As Megean Taylor walks along the main gravel road of Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation, she stops and flinches in front of a white home with broken windows, covered in plywood.

She lived alone in the home when she was a teenager in the First Nation, also known as Grassy Narrows, in northwestern Ontario.

Taylor said she bounced between more than two dozen foster or group homes located hundreds, or even thousands of kilometres, from her community.

When she returned home at the age of 16, she was again left to fend for herself.

“I ended up staying in this house for five months, starving,” recalled Taylor, now 21, during an interview with Global News on a trip back to the remote community.

Click to play video: 'The New Reality: The Business of Indigenous Kids in Care'

The New Reality: The Business of Indigenous Kids in Care

Many Grassy Narrows children like Taylor have endured being sent to foster and group homes far away, inflicting on them what child-welfare experts call “significant culture shock” that can last years.

A Global News investigation has revealed how First Nations youths from remote, northern communities like Grassy Narrows are allegedly targeted by some for-profit group home companies because their owners can charge more for Indigenous children or because the kids provide a steady source of revenue, according to interviews with more than 50 former group home workers, former children’s aid employees, and child-welfare experts.

“People need to know that the child welfare system is not what they think it is,” said a former group home worker from eastern Ontario, who Global News is not identifying because the person fears professional reprisals. “They would be quite shocked if they were to be exposed to that environment.”


A map showing Grassy Narrows. The Canadian Press

Sylvia Maracle, the former long-time executive director of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, said private youth group home operators “see our children as the ticket to money.”

“Some of these young people have had experiences that shouldn’t have happened, and are incredibly traumatized,” Maracle said.

“Even though Canada has apologized for residential schools, they’ve just changed the school to child welfare residences.”

Taylor herself believes such companies are profiting off First Nations kids.

“I think it’s real, and people need to see it and (Indigenous child-welfare agencies) need to smarten up because these are human lives,” she said.

Group home companies contacted by Global News strongly denied that they target Indigenous youth or charge northern First Nations children’s agencies higher fees to care for kids. The companies also contend they work with an Indigenous youth’s legal guardian, social worker and local Children’s Aid Society case management team to meet the child’s cultural needs.

Grassy Narrows’ painful past

Megean Taylor visits a memorial in Grassy Narrows which honors members of her First Nation who were forcibly sent to residential schools. (Andrew Russell/Global News)

In the Ojibwe Nation of approximately 1,600 members, more than 100 children are in the care of the child-welfare system, according to local Indigenous organization Grassy Narrows Child and Family Advocates.

The First Nation’s breathtaking scenery — shimmering waterways and eagles soaring overhead — belies the social challenges residents face: addiction, high unemployment, and a housing shortage.

To understand why there are so many Indigenous kids being placed into the system, Grassy community members and advocates say you must examine and understand the history of the place.

Many in the community say families are struggling with unresolved intergenerational trauma.

Residential school
The St. Mary’s Indian Residential school operated from 1897-1972, in Kenora, Ontario, in Treaty 3 Territory. (Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, Algoma University)

For decades, scores of Grassy Narrows residents were ripped from their families and forcibly sent to the McIntosh Residential School and St. Mary’s Indian Residential School, near Kenora, Ont., or St. Margaret’s in Fort Frances, Ont., among others.

Children from the First Nation were also taken during the ’60s Scoop, a period between the 1960s and 1980s, when child-welfare authorities removed Indigenous kids from their families and put them up for adoption in non-Indigenous families.

Then, in 1970, a pulp and paper company in nearby Dryden dumped more than 9,000 kilograms of mercury into the Wabigoon-English river system that surrounds the community. It poisoned the water, fish, and residents for decades. The provincial government banned commercial fishing in the area.

Warning sign posted in Grassy Narrows about reducing contamination from eating fish. (Andrew Russell/Global News)

Once prosperous, the First Nation was hit by high unemployment, mercury-related illness, and addictions causing generational “social and economic devastation,” according to research by Chris Vecsey, a Colgate University professor of Humanities and Native American Studies.


Today, one in five people are unemployed, according to Statistics Canada. Warnings about the mercury contamination are posted throughout the community.

The situation in Grassy Narrows is a microcosm of a bigger, broader issue. In Canada, roughly 54 per cent of kids under age 14 and in foster care are Indigenous, despite representing just 7.7 per cent of the child population, according to Statistics Canada.

A new crisis

Maria Swain, program manager of Grassy Narrows Child and Family Advocates, speaks with Global News in July 2023. (Global News)

Without sufficient community-based resources, child-welfare authorities responsible for Grassy Narrows are often forced to send kids, like Taylor, to group and foster homes across southern Ontario.

In Ontario, there are just over 300 group homes, with 135 run by for-profit companies who each negotiate a daily rate with the province. The remaining homes are run by non-profits, like children’s aid societies, Indigenous children’s agencies, and independent or religious organizations.

Most of these homes hire rotating shift workers to look after multiple kids who reside in them, including youths who may have been abused, orphaned or have other complex needs.

Maria Swain is a survivor of two residential schools. She has seen what foster and group homes can do to Indigenous kids placed in “a money-making industry,” she said.

“Our children come back more damaged so it’s got to stop,” she said.

“These are lives, you know, these are young children. They’re not a commodity.”

Click to play video: 'Grassy Narrows pleading for mercury care home funding'

Grassy Narrows pleading for mercury care home funding

Swain is now program manager for Grassy Narrows Child and Family Advocates. Her office helps families navigate the child-welfare system and fights for kids to stay in the community.

“I’m hoping that as we move on further in our programming, that more and more communities will start saying, ‘We want our children back, we want them home,’” she said.

There can often be 10 to 12 people living in a two-bedroom, single-floor house in Grassy. Such “major overcrowding” means there’s no room to place kids or families who need urgent help, Swain said.

“We’re in a state of crisis,” she said. “We have families that want to come home, but there’s just nowhere to live.”

Megean Taylor’s journey

Megean Taylor, from Grassy Narrows First Nation, said she bounced between more than two dozen foster or group homes across Ontario. (Andrew Russell/Global News)

Taylor’s experience inside Ontario’s child-welfare system nearly killed her.


At age 10, Taylor said, she began a journey that would see her move between more than 20 foster and group homes located across the province.

Her parents battled alcohol addiction, she said. Her mother died when Taylor was 14 years old.

Her most emotionally scarring moment was in a foster home where she said she and her sister were placed.

Mandatory, weekly church visits and harsh living conditions characterized life in the home.

Click to play video: 'Investigation finds youth in Ontario’s child welfare system restrained over 2,000 times in one year'

Investigation finds youth in Ontario’s child welfare system restrained over 2,000 times in one year

One “racist” moment is ingrained in her memory, she said, when her foster parents handed her clothes and told she and her sister to shower because “we were dirty natives.”

“They dressed us up as cowboys, and they’re like, ‘Look at these Indians becoming cowboys,’” she said.

Megean Taylor in an undated photograph from her time in foster care. (Supplied)

She would be moved further and further from Grassy Narrows until she was placed in a group home in southwestern Ontario, more than 1,900 kilometres away.

As a young teenager, she said she was offered little to no therapy, or help connecting with Ojibwe cultural practices.

“I didn’t feel loved. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere,” said Taylor, holding back tears.

Former workers from this group home company told Global News the quality of care kids received suffered due to serious staffing shortages, which they blamed on low pay and a lack of training or resources.

The for-profit company often promised children’s aid agencies it would provide one worker or even two staffers to care for and supervise kids with complex needs in the group home, but failed to regularly provide those services, workers said.

In Taylor’s case, the distress she said she felt being trapped inside a broken system, combined with the alleged lapses in her supervised care, left her thinking about taking her life.

But Taylor said she “snapped back” and realized her death would accomplish nothing.

“I really felt like they didn’t care. I was just going to be another native that killed themselves,” she said. “You know, they kind of see money,” Taylor added. “And you’re kind of just left there without any emotions.”

Alcohol, drug abuse trigger protests in Grassy Narrows

Residents of Grassy Narrows First Nation on a protest walk against drugs and alcohol abuse in July 2023. (Andrew Russell/Global News)

On a hot morning last July, roughly two dozen Grassy Narrows residents gathered at the lone gas station and convenience store on the edge of the community for a protest.

An elder in a wheelchair joined young children and teenagers from the local high school who carried handmade signs: stop the bootlegging and drug dealing.

An elder and two young Grassy Narrows residents protest against drug and alcohol abuse in the community. (Andrew Russell/Global News)

Substance abuse is reshaping families.


Chrissy Isaacs, who attended the march, said she is now caring for her kids and grandchildren under the same roof.

“My daughter is an addict. She’s not capable of looking after them,” Isaacs said.

“I chose for them not to be in the child-welfare system. I’ve been raising them since they were little babies.”

Foundations for hope

A construction worker builds a future home for youths who need an emergency bed or who are transitioning out of the child-welfare system. (Andrew Russell/Global News)

In a newly cleared section of woods in Grassy Narrows, the buzz of saws and banging of hammers echo as workers build five new houses, all fourplexes, for kids and teens who need help.

Chief Rudy Turtle said this project is part of a plan to help kids transitioning out of the child-welfare system and provide group homes or emergency placements for kids on the First Nation. The federal government is funding the $3.71 million project, which also includes a transition home in Kenora.

“We want our kids to stay in the community,” Chief Turtle said.

Chief Rudy Turtle speaks with Global News in Grassy Narrows First Nation in July 2023. (Andrew Russell/Global News)

Grassy Narrows still needs another 50 homes and more federal money to build them, he said.

“We’re doing everything that we can to ensure that whenever kids are taken (by welfare workers), the first people to be contacted are the family members,” Chief Turtle said. “Unfortunately, sometimes we can’t find family members to step in, so we have no choice but to go outside.”

‘Every chance I get, I just try to hug her’

Megean Taylor, 21, pictured next to a lake in Grassy Narrows First Nation in July 2023. (Andrew Russell/Global News)

For Megean Taylor, the housing crisis has pushed her to live in Kenora, Ont., about 90 minutes southwest of the First Nation.

There, she is completing her Grade 12 education, but she still considers Grassy her “sanctuary.”

Despite everything that’s happened, there were also happy times for her there.

Click to play video: 'Ontario proposes child welfare system changes'

Ontario proposes child welfare system changes

During her visit home, Taylor stops in front of another house on the First Nation.


“My mom used to sit with me on that porch and braid my hair and teach me how to paint,” she recalls pointing to the porch, smiling. They also watched sunsets together.

The Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services needs to know that its current system is “failing” Indigenous youth, Taylor said, often stealing the innocence of kids like her and leaving them to fight alone.

“I belong to that little girl inside of me. I need to take care of her, because nobody else did,” she said. “Every chance I get, I just try to hug her because I know she just wants a hug. She just wants to be loved.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

For immediate mental health support, call 988. For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention at

Learn more about preventing suicide with these warning signs and tips on how to help.

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