As leaders and advocates converge in Ottawa to tackle an Indigenous child welfare crisis, a Winnipeg man is sharing his story of a system he said failed him as a parent.

CTV cannot identify him because one of his children is a ward of CFS (Child and Family Services). 

He told CTV News his children were placed in care 13 years ago and that he’d had brushes with the law. 

Having turned his life around, the man said he’s been living drug and alcohol-free for more than a decade.

He said he spent ten years trying to get his children back, but was met with every obstacle. 

“They wouldn’t look at my life with my wife and my kids. We were both foster parents for different agencies and they wouldn’t even consider that,” he told CTV. 

“They just turned their back on us.” 

His 10 years of marriage, children and foster children are all things he said didn't matter in his initial fight to get custody of his daughters. 

“They’d always say they’d review my case next year. Review my case next year. I guess I never knew what rights I had.” 

Eventually, he sought help from a First Nations child advocacy group, and told CTV News he finally got his daughters back, but one quickly became too aggressive to live in the home with the other young children. 

He said he’s currently taking time away from work to try to get her the help she needs, while working with his other daughter as she adjusts to a new family-oriented life in his home. 

He told CTV News he hoped system reforms could bring about change to a system he stressed has failed not just his family but countless others. 

Their story isn’t an isolated incident; data shows a disproportionate number of Indigenous children end up in care. 

Census data estimates Indigenous children account for more than 52 percent of children in care in Canada, and the proportion is even greater in this province. 

According to a provincial report, Indigenous children account for 89 percent of children in care in Manitoba. 

Addressing a crowd Thursday as leaders gathered for an emergency meeting on child welfare, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said she doesn’t believe anyone actually knows how many children are in care across the country. 

“No one has good data about the rate of apprehension, and where those children are going and why,” Philpott said. 

Minister Philpott is calling for accurate data, and stressed that families need to be supported and kept together through major system reforms. 

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde also agreed that a system overhaul needs to include a focus on prevention rather the apprehension of children. 

“That’s something First Nations can identify in their own territories: where are those health homes? So children can stay in those healthy homes and in their communities.”