Melissa Patriquin of the Mnaasged Alternative Care program speaks in Muncey, Ont. in June 2021. (Bryan Bicknell / CTV News)

LONDON, ONT. -- On National Indigenous Peoples Day, a day that celebrates First Nations culture, there was a major announcement for Indigenous children and youth in Southwestern Ontario.

The Muncey-based Mnaasged Alternative Care program has secured a foster care license.

It means Indigenous children in the foster system can now find love and care in culturally appropriate environments, no longer solely under the care of the Children's Aid Society (CAS).

“The system is old, the framework just doesn’t work, and it’s not appropriate for Indigenous children and youth,” said Melissa Patriquin, Mnaasged’s director of Child and Family Services.

The agency will now take direct referrals from the CAS, and will work to match Indigenous children from First Nations communities across southern Ontario with caring foster families.

Currently, there are more than 100 Indigenous children in the catchment area that would benefit from the services of the agency.

Patriqin says the goal is to bring them closer to their cultural identity.

“I don’t think that there’s any Indigenous person who hasn’t been affected in some way, shape, or form by the inter-generational effects of residential schools, the '60s Scoop, child welfare. Indigenous people are so over-represented in the child welfare system right now.”

The agency also has a new headquarters on the Muncey reserve west of London. It’s equipped with various amenities like a healing lodge, arbour centres for ceremonies, and a playground.

It will also serve as an administrative and cultural hub for the agency, said Executive Director Mike George.

“This is a really significant piece for us because it helps us repatriate some of the children who were placed in non-Indigenous families. It will help us repartriate them back to their communities, and provide that additional connection to their communities, their elders, their clans, and their culture.”

Mnaasged is actively seeking foster families. Alternative care supervisor Kyliegh Alexander said they don’t have to be Indigenous.

Education and training that recognizes First Nations culture and supports children will be provided.

“Like every other child, right? Like they’re just looking for a home, they’re looking for care and love. They’re going to thrive when their needs are met and when their care is quality.”

Those interested in becoming a foster family can check here.