The Innu Nation has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging the federal government spends more money removing children from homes than keeping families together.
Gregory Rich, grand chief of the Innu Nation, which represents the Innu of Labrador, said in a statement Tuesday Canada's child welfare system has had devastating consequences.
The complaint, which was filed in June, says the federal government gives Newfoundland and Labrador more money for the foster care system compared with the funds it provides to help families.
A 2016 Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision found the federal government's unequal funding for child welfare services discriminated against children who live on reserves. That ruling called for "immediate relief" for First Nations children.
Rich, however, said funding from Ottawa remains inadequate and Innu children are suffering.
He said the federal government spends 10 times more money placing children in foster care compared with investments into community-based prevention services that help keep families united.
"Innu Nation is taking action to stand up for our children," he said in the Tuesday statement. "And the least the federal government can do is what the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ordered.
"Until that happens, our children and families are facing the consequences, and that means more lives lost or destroyed."
Rich said one Innu child out of every 10 has been taken out of their home as a result of the current funding system.
A 15-year-old Innu boy from Natuashish died by suicide in May at a government-approved group home in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Rich said. The teenager's death led to renewed calls for the long-awaited inquiry into the treatment of Innu children in the care of Newfoundland and Labrador's child protection services.
The provincial government and Innu leaders formally agreed in 2017 to hold an inquiry following the suicide of 16-year-old Thunderheart Tshakapesh earlier that year. Rich said the death of the teenager in May is the"the latest tragedy that has devastated our families in so many ways."
The human rights complaint alleges an Innu agency created to help children was denied funding because it didn't provide foster care services.
According to the Innu Nation's filing with the human rights commission, Ottawa said the agency, called the Innu Round Table Secretariat, did not meet the federal government's requirements for needs-based funding. Ottawa also said funding from the federal government had to be delegated by the province.
That decision has created bureaucratic hurdles that are "illogical, unduly onerous, arbitrary ... and unnecessary," the Innu Nation alleges.
Indigenous Services Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.