Ms. Loiselle Arcand wears many hats in her community of Alexander First Nation (Nation), Alberta. Her two primary ones are being the Assistant Director of Social Development and Chief Executive Officer of the Wapskimahikan Society. She has been working for Social Development for over thirty years. Social Development strives to provide resources and supports to Nation members and residents in maintaining a basic standard of living while promoting independence and family unity.
Loiselle decided to go back to work in her home community after she completed her Social Work training. She began as a Family Support Worker where she would visit with families and provide supports to help them through various situations. Early on, she realized that there needed to be stronger relationships and more supports and services available in her community. Loiselle began advocating to help create a voice for them. She wanted to create a path where Social Development could have better working relationships with families in need. Many parents had a fear that if they accessed services, Alberta Child and Family Services (CFS) would take away their children.
Loiselle and the Social Development team wanted to change this narrative and build a working relationship where community members were no longer fearing CFS. They wanted to create an open-door policy to provide support and resources that focus on helping families stay together. The Social Development team looked at the existing program and how it can be delivered differently. Loiselle said it took some work on the part of the Nation to walk the talk. They had to take responsibility for what they wanted to see happen and what their role was in terms of service delivery. They decided that they should not blame issues on parents. The Nation had a responsibility too, as members of the community, to provide a service and to help make that shift. They also did not want to rely on the Province of Alberta to ‘fix it’ and they wanted to take a lead role in creating change.
In the past, the Nation utilized outside organizations to come into the community to provide support services. The organizations did not have a good understanding of the way of life in the Nation and their services were not really helping families and became more of a hindrance. The Nation also had to wait for available services which caused delays for families in need. The Nation decided to establish their own incorporated society and agency and hire their own people to work in it. Their members understand where people are coming from and the ways of a Cree community. The Nation then acquired a contract from the Ministry of Children’s Services to be able to provide local support services to families in need. They now have equal say, and they have the opportunity to match appropriate workers with each of the families. They can also provide services immediately when it is needed. As CEO, Loiselle negotiates and maintains the contract yearly so the community can continue to provide those services.
Social Development also started giving the authority and power back to families to make their own choices and decisions. Once families started making that shift and realizing that they can have some say in terms of what they want to have for services and how they stay involved with CFS, they became more easily engageable, and they were not so reluctant to speak to workers. Loiselle said, “It is not a big thing now for a worker to pull up at somebody’s house or to see them at the school. It is not like it used to be a long time ago.”
In the past, there also needed to be an open file with CFS in order to receive support services. Social Development thinks outside the box when delivering services and now provides pre- and post-child intervention care. There does not need to be an open file to access these services. The Nation is taking preventative measures to help reduce the number of children going into care and to help reduce family breakdowns.
Loiselle says that it has taken a while to get there but they have made wonderful progress. She said it is in part due to the fact that their leadership has always been supportive of the Social Development team. Loiselle shared that “the leadership has always had a vested interest in what happens with their children and families and what type of services are being delivered. They have always been supportive of our program, and in advocating on our behalf with Children’s Services to make sure we have a voice at the table and create a positive partnership together. The Nation works together with the Province to follow their policies but yet we are still respectful of the customs and norms of our community.”
In the past, child welfare was a generational thing on the Nation. However, with preventative measures the Nation can now focus on breaking that cycle. Loiselle said, “I think the one thing that has really helped us to stay grounded and focused is our natural laws that we were all at one point in time exposed to or governed by. Whether it was with our parents, our grandparents, or great grandparents, at some point we had a system within our communities that worked. Our system spoke to respect, the culture, the importance of family, all my relations, my kids are your kids, and so we raised our kids together. Somewhere down the line, at no fault of anybody, we lost that. We were exposed to provincial practices that took away the ability for families to make those decisions. I say stay true to your culture, your customs, your norms, and your values. I remember my grandpa told me never forget where you come from and never forget that you work for the people. Let us work towards getting back to that as it helps to create harmony, peace, a sense of belonging and a feeling that you matter.”
In December 2022, Loiselle was a recipient of The Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Medal which honours deserving individuals who have made significant and lasting contributions to the wellbeing of children, youth, and families in Alberta. Loiselle has committed many years of hard work to serving the Alexander First Nation families and it has resulted in positive changes and better outcomes for the community as a whole.
By Kinnukana, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Published on Jul 12, 2023