The Gitanmaax Band of northern British Columbia is holding on, refusing to let the provincial child welfare system remove another of its children.
On Sunday evening, allies joined with hereditary band chiefs in blocking road access as a social worker entered the Hazelton reserve in B.C. to return a six-year-old girl to foster care .
The girl was visiting her matrilineal family for a week in Gitanmaax and belongs to the Git’luuhl’um’hetxwit house of the Gitxsan nation.
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“We never want to lose a child,” said Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, who belongs to the same Gitxsan house group and attended the resistance protest on Sunday.
“We never want these children to grow up not knowing who they are, where they come from, who their ancestors are – their history, their stories, their heritage.”
According to the community, the child was placed under the protection of his home group.
On Instagram, Sutherland-Wilson posted that she was “surrounded by loved ones… learning our language, playing with cousins and listening to the stories of her ancestors.”
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To protect her identity, little information was shared about the girl’s family situation in Gitanmaax or her previous experience in a provincial foster home.
Her home group said she suffered a broken collarbone under the care of the ministry, but details of the injury were also kept private.
Sutherland-Wilson said no full custody deal had been reached for the girl.
“There was a reason we had to take this step, and that’s because many other steps had already been exacerbated,” he explained.
“In the courts, we have followed all the processes, and despite all these promises, in these many bills openly claiming to support Indigenous jurisdiction over child welfare, we have always found that the system was not not suitable for keeping children inside. our community. “
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The Canadian foster care system has been compared to a modern residential school system.
According to census data, Indigenous children make up less than eight percent of children under the age of 14 in Canada, but make up more than half of foster children.
Vancouver-based Métis lawyer Roslyn Chambers said Indigenous peoples have a plan for their children and, under these circumstances, “unfortunately, this is how it has to be shown.”
“The problem is that the government does not seem to involve the community, does not seem to take into account the indigenous nature of children and the unique impacts that a child’s removal from their community and family has,” he said. she declared. Global News.
“Remove children from their community, from their culture, with no known return date. “
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On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc in Kamloops, British Columbia, where he pledged to work with communities to develop child protection policies that are right for them.
In July, Ottawa signed an agreement with the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan that allowed the community to regain jurisdiction over its child welfare system, and Trudeau said similar agreements were being engraved throughout. the country.
“This is unacceptable and this is an example of this country failing to understand the lessons, the horrible lessons of residential schools,” he said, the system widely used today.
The federal government will provide the resources necessary to keep children at risk in their communities, he added, and will work “at their own pace.”
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In an interview on Monday, BC Minister of Children and Family Development Mitzi Dean said she was unable to respond to the girl’s special circumstances in Gitanmaax, but said staff in his ministry work closely with family and community.
“We know how important it is to keep children and youth connected to their families, their communities, their culture,” Dean said. “The safety, health and well-being of children and youth is our top priority. “
Progress has been made with British Columbia’s First Nations seeking jurisdiction over the child welfare system, the minister added, with several working groups currently negotiating agreements.
The government has been “too involved” in the lives of Indigenous children and youth for “far too long,” Dean said, but the province will not rush into legislative changes.
“We will go at their pace,” she explained. “Each nation is at a different stage to be able to participate in these discussions, and each nation is also going to want a different solution for its community. “
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Since Gitanmaax and his allies stood firm Sunday night, resuming their competence in child protection, Sutherland-Wilson said many people have reached out to express support and understanding of the circumstances.
“Ultimately, I think this story exists on a much larger scale than the Gitxsan nation alone,” he explained.
“In the end, there was a great sense of relief and empowerment as we all stood together and stood up for the young citizen of our Gitxsan people.”
He said a rally will be held at the Department for Children and Family Development office in Hazelton on Tuesday at 9 a.m. to demand that the province cede control of child welfare to the Gitxsan Nation. .
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