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

Tsilhqot’in Nation aims for control of child and family services

February 27, 2024

TNG leaders, councils, frontline workers met for two days in Williams Lake

  • Drummers open a Tshilqot’in National Government meeting at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex Friday, Feb. 23. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

1 / 10 Drummers open a Tshilqot’in National Government meeting at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex Friday, Feb. 23. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo – Williams Lake Tribune) 

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First People’s Law report: The Williams Lake Report – The Tsilhqot’in Nation continues to push for jurisdiction over child and family services for their people.

By June 2024 the nation hopes to have a coordination agreement to provide the services, supported by Tsilhqot’in legislation, in place that will be implemented and developed through ongoing planning.

To reach that goal, work has gone on within the six Tsilhqot’in communities – ?Esdilagh, Tl’etinqox, Tl’esqox, Tsideldel, Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in – and the Nidlin Advisory Team and Engagement Team.

On Thursday, Feb. 22 and Friday, Feb. 23, members of the nation gathered for an update at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex.

Thursday night there was a leadership forum with all the chiefs, councils and the women’s council for a ceremony, shared meal, child and family jurisdiction briefing, collaboration and discussion.

Black Press Media was invited to attend the Friday morning session which included a presentation by Dr. Cindy Blackstock, Canadian Gitxsan activist for child welfare and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (Caring Society).

In 2007, the Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a human rights complaint against the government of Canada. The complaint says that First Nations children and families living on reserve are not receiving the same level of child welfare services as other families in Canada, and that this is discrimination.

“Today is a very special day. Seventeen years ago I was in Ottawa and we were delivering to the Canadian Human Rights Commission that landmark complaint for First Nations children,” Blackstock told the chiefs, frontline workers and elders attending the session. “I couldn’t think of a better place to spend it than with all of you,” she said.

Blackstock said at a national level, 72 per cent of First Nations children in care are off-reserve so if the focus is only on children on-reserve a large number of children will be missed.

When they filed the complaint in 2007, First Nations children were over represented in the child welfare system by six or seven times the rate of other children.

“Today they are 17.2 times as likely to be in care,” she said.

While the major reason for overrepresentation is neglect, Blackstock said it is important to discuss what neglect means.

The big issues, she added, are addictions and domestic violence that are linked to intergenerational trauma, but other issues are mental health, poverty and housing.

“Those same fires are with juvenile justice, with mental wellness. These are the issues we need to tackle, otherwise we are just putting lipstick on the pig, as they say.”

Embracing multigenerational strength and the power this strength bringsis one of the ways of tackling the issues, she noted.

“We want to stop Canada’s discrimination and make sure it does not happen again. This is the top call to action from residential school survivors.”

Blackstock encouraged everyone to read the Assembly of Seven Generations report titled Accountability in our Lifetime, published in 2021.

The report involved youth in care and out of care.

Blackstock said collectively First Nations across Canada have achieved a lot and are working to achieve more.

Praising the implementation of Jordan’s Principle, which aims to make sure all First Nations children living in Canada can access the products, services and supports they need, she said there have been more than four million services provided through it.

“That’s something that has been very important, and life-saving for families,” she said of Jordan’s Principle.

TNG tribal chair and Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse said the nation needs to create a better future for the children.

He said the prolific offenders who have come from his community cannot read and write and grew up in foster homes.

“Don’t be intimidated,” he said, encouraging everyone at the meeting. “We are going to build something way better.”

Marilyn Charleyboy, part of the Nidlin team and a mother and grandmother in her community of Tsideldel. spoke passionately at the beginning and end of Friday’s session.

“Children are innocent and deserve the world,” she said. “Imagine the strength of this nation if we brought up children who did not need to heal.”

Charleyboy said they need to be fierce for their children.

“We need to think what can we do about it, not what they can do about it. We need to get rid of that us and them mentality. It’s not us and them. It’s us and us. We are responsible for our children in our nation.”

She said when she started in the work she vowed to learn the name of every child in her community so she would acknowledge them every time she was in their presence so they felt seen and heard.

“This is for the children. We have got to remember there are names and personalities at the other end of our discussions.”

Melanie Johnny described the knowledge and wisdom combined at the Gibraltar Room was very powerful.

“The goal of this table is to guide them [our children] back to where we used to be. The ground work has already been done in the communities. Each of us have been taught by our parents and grandparents and we need to share that with our children and grandchildren.”

TNG executive director Jenny Philbrick said she had been working at the TNG for five years and Thursday evening was the first time she saw all of the chiefs and councils together.

“We are fighting against a system that was not made for us and pushing hard for change,” Philbrick said, adding she is proud the six communities are working together.

Philbrick said the work is ongoing and encouraged anyone who sees gaps or concerns to please share them with the team.

“We are wanting to hear from you and engagement sessions are still ongoing, even if we do get jurisdiction. It took a while to get where we are now and it is going to take a while to get us back to where we need to be.”

Christa Smith, executive of Denisiqi Services Society, thanked and acknowledged everyone who attended the Thursday night session.

“It was so incredibly inspiring to know there were 50-some brains all putting energy and hearts into the work that we do,” she said. “I want to thank the leadership that showed up again today around the room.We cannot do this without leadership and support.”

Smith said the team is trying to build something that is totally new and different.

Just before lunch Cecil Grinder of Tl’etinqox First Nation invited everyone to form a large circle and hold hands to be reminded of the strength of working together. From there, people at one end of the circle started walking around hugging each person until everyone had been hugged and offered a hug. 

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News. Read more

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