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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Cowichan Tribes to take over own child and family services

This marks a major step in offering traditional child services for BC's largest First Nation

Robyn Bell
November 27, 2023
Indigenous
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Cowichan Tribes to take over own child and family services

This marks a major step in offering traditional child services for BC's largest First Nation

Robyn Bell
Nov 27, 2023
Photo: Cowichan Tribes Facebook
Photo: Cowichan Tribes Facebook
Indigenous
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Cowichan Tribes to take over own child and family services

This marks a major step in offering traditional child services for BC's largest First Nation

Robyn Bell
November 27, 2023
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Cowichan Tribes to take over own child and family services
Photo: Cowichan Tribes Facebook

The Island First Nation voted Friday to take over its child and family services, removing any involvement from the provincial and federal governments, with 83% of voters choosing to adopt the new law. 

The Laws of the Cowichan People for Families and Children will focus on preventative measures as part of its child services, ensuring families never reach the need for late-stage interventions that would typically see provincial services involved. It’s rooted in traditional Cowichan teachings—or ​​“snuw’uy’ulh”—with elders and other community members helping to create the law. It will prioritize keeping children with, in order of preference: at least one parent, extended family member, a nearby Cowichan Tribes family, or another Indigenous person. Keeping children with or near their siblings will also be a priority.

“Its purpose is to keep our families together and ensure Cowichan children and youth remain in the community,” said Cowichan citizen Sarah Morales in a video statement. “This law was developed by our community, for our community.”

Basic support services will be available for all Cowichan citizens, with a focus on strengthening family relationships, parenting and life skills, health care, language, and culture. Additional services will include support for those dealing with poverty, inadequate housing, substance misuse, or mental-health issues, and support for children with special needs. For youth previously in care, support will be available until the age of 27.

Cowichan Tribes first began its negotiations with federal and provincial governments in 2020, making it one of the initial 11 First Nations to start this process after Bill C-92, An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families was passed. The act was designed to address the overwhelming number of Indigenous children in government care by allowing Indigenous Nations to have jurisdiction over their own child and family services.

In Canada, 53% of those in foster care are Indigenous children under 14, despite only representing 7% of the country’s under 14 population. In BC, Indigenous children made up nearly 70% of those in foster care between 2021 and 2022.

The lack of oversight for Indigenous children in care has had devastating results. Earlier this year, the First Nations Leadership Council called for the resignation of Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean due to her department’s handling of a case where two fostered Indigenous children were tortured, with a boy, 11, being beaten to death. The Ministry of Children and Family Development hadn’t checked on the children in seven months, according to court findings.

“Generations of our children have experienced the trauma of removal from their families and communities and loss of language and culture through residential schools, the '60s Scoop, and the colonial child welfare system,” Cowichan Chief Lydia Hwitsum said in a statement. 

“This historic vote sets our smun’eem (children) and future generations on a new path, one that ensures they are surrounded by their families, their Quw’utsun culture, tl’l’tul tst (love), and supports.”

Cowichan Tribes is the largest single First Nation band in BC with 5,300+ members. While it’s had its own service—called Lalum’utul’ Smun’eem—overseeing child and family care since 1996, its social workers were required to follow provincial regulations, with some Cowichan cases still managed by the province. The new law will end the province’s involvement entirely. Staffing levels are also expected to increase for Lalum’utul’ Smun’eem.

The Cowichan family service agency will report to a board made up of a majority of Cowichan citizens. Cowichan Tribes Council is expected to support the agency, but will not be involved in day-to-day decision-making.

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Robyn Bell
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