First Nations leadership gathered in Vancouver last week with representatives of the provincial and federal government to discuss the current challenges in First Nations child welfare in B.C.
The gathering had more than 400 participants, including B.C. minister of Aboriginal relations and reconciliation John Rustad, B.C. minister of children and family development Stephanie Cadieux and Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam.
During the gathering, First Nations youth shared the profound impacts of being in state care and being “aged out” of the system unprepared for adult life.
Cheryl Casimer, member of the First Nations Summit Political Executive, said First Nations in B.C. need to have more decision-making power.
“There needs to be a major overhaul or reform on the legislation and services that currently exist because it’s not working and it’s failing our children,” she said. “We believe that there should be a First Nations child and family act – whether it’s provincial or national -, something that’s going allow communities to have the jurisdiction to be able to deal with child welfare issues in a way that works for them.”
In a press release, the First Nations Leadership Council say they are resolute in re-assuming “full control and exercise of their inherent right of self-determination over the health and well-being of their children, families and communities.”
Chief Wilf Adam agrees that First Nations need to take more control of family and children issues.
“What’s happening now is the government dictating what is to be done,” he said. “Clearly this is not working; First Nations need to be in every step of the way.”
Edward Hill, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, said that although the provincial government hasn’t developed any new policies yet, the province has invited federal and First Nations partners to take part in a new joint working group.
“This group can review our collective current policy, program and legislative frameworks, governance and how to address outstanding concerns of B.C. First Nations,” said Hill. “We are willing to work together to make any necessary changes to ensure that they are rooted in the principles of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.”
Chief Adam said he left the gathering with a positive outlook.
“I think the B.C. government is finally listening and working towards making nation to nation implementation a reality,” he said.