Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 4: Child Welfare (1-5)

Cowichan Tribes now fully responsible for child welfare services

June 24, 2024

First Nation signs co-ordination agreement that transfers responsibility from federal government

Three women sign an agreement at a table, all of whom are wearing First Nations regalia.
Left to right: Grace Lore, B.C. minister of children and family development, Patty Hajdu, minister of Indigenous services, and Cowichan Tribes Chief Cindy Daniels (Sulsulxumaat) are seen signing a co-ordination agreement that transfers responsibility for child welfare services to the nation. (CNW Group/Indigenous Services Canada)

CBC News: The largest First Nation in B.C. by population, the Cowichan Tribes, has signed a co-ordination agreement that will see it assume full responsibility over youth and family services for its citizens.

The Cowichan Tribes — which has about 5,300 members and is based on Vancouver Island — had voted in November to pass new laws to prioritize supports to keep children with their families, or place them with relatives in other Indigenous homes.

Now, the federal and provincial governments have signed the co-ordination agreement that allows the nation to start phasing in the law.

The federal government says it’s the second First Nation in B.C. to have assumed responsibility for its child welfare services, following the Splatsin First Nation in the Shuswap region.

It follows federal legislation in 2020 that allows Indigenous communities to manage their own child welfare systems, along with a provincial law passed in 2022 called the Indigenous Self-Government in Child and Family Services Amendment Act.

Cowichan Tribes Chief Cindy Daniels (Sulsulxumaat) told a news conference Monday that the lawallows the nation to ensure its teachings and values are passed on to future generations.

“We are leaving behind the practice of child apprehension and placements that have alienated children from their families and our community for generations, practices that have repeatedly caused trauma,” Daniels said.

“By embedding our teachings, family customs and values into our law, we are setting new requirements for how decisions are made — to prioritize keeping our children with their families,” she added.

Three women wearing Indigenous regalia smile while outdoors.
Grace Lore, left, Cindy Daniels, centre, and Patty Hajdu, right, are seen on Monday before they signed the co-ordination agreement. (Grace Lore/Twitter)

As part of the co-ordination agreement signed Monday, the federal government will provide the nation $207.5 million, and the provincial government will provide $22 million over four years to assist the nation with setting up its own child and family services authority.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said that decades of federal and provincially-run youth services had meant First Nations children were taken from their homes and placed in unfamiliar homes — something she called a colonial practice that separated families.

A woman in a white suit speaks with her arms raised at a meeting.
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said that child welfare systems had taken Indigenous children away from their families and placed them in unfamiliar homes. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

“This was an intentional decision by the government of Canada, and many provinces and territories that participated in this work, to continue to control the narrative in this country, the resources in this country, and the power in this country,” Hajdu said.

“It’s extremely poignant for me to stand here in front of you to try to make amends for a country that has brought so much harm on people and on families through what is the most precious to us.” 

The provincial legislation in 2022 was passed with an eye to ending the overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in care in B.C., who are nearly seven times more likely to be apprehended than non-Indigenous children, according to data from the Ministry of Child and Family Development.

There were 5,037 children and youth in care in B.C. between April 2021 and March 2022, according to the ministry, and approximately 3,425 were Indigenous. 

Indigenous children and youth make up 67.9 per cent of children and youth in care in B.C. despite accounting for 12.6 per cent of people under 19 in the province, according to ministry data.

With files from The Canadian Press