It’s a clear indication the federal government is serious about cutting the numbers of Indigenous kids in foster care.
With a vow there will be “no more scooping children” and “no more ripping apart families,” Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced Friday the federal government is ready to hand over jurisdictional control of child welfare services to Indigenous governments.
“This is big, and I was really excited to hear it today,” said Grand Chief Doug Kelly, president of the Sto:lo Tribal Council, and chair of the First Nations Health Council.
It’s been something on the radar of Sto:lo leaders, and there have been recent discussions in Sto:lo territory about the idea of reclaiming control and going back to a “kinship” model of care.
For Grand Chief Kelly said he is hopeful that all the magnitude of what has been lost can be restored in a foundation of the new law.
“My heart is full of hope,” said Kelly in a phone interview from Vancouver, “and the reason is that the Indian Act and the Residential School systematically tore our families apart, separated grandparents, and parents from their children and separated those children from their language, their culture, their ceremonies.”
Something had to give, in the face of vastly over-represented numbers of Indigenous children in care compared to non-Indigenous kids, which has been a long-standing irritant.
“With the promise of this legislation, we can restore what was lost,” Kelly said. “It means in future our children will be kept in their families, in their communities. It means they will stay connected to the land, their culture, their ceremonies, and spirituality.”
It is recognition at the highest level of government of the wide-ranging and devastating impacts of the residential school system, and later the Sixties Scoop, which removed Indigenous children from their homes, and also disconnected them from their language, culture and lineage.
The next steps locally will see Sto:lo “matriarchs” and others heading into discussions on how they will reclaim the jurisdiction of children and family services on a practical level.
In order to get it done, it will mean communities will have to have tough discussions first about the hard realities and social issues affecting children and youth, “like substances, like untreated trauma, alcohol, drugs and all the other things that create an unsafe atmosphere,” Kelly said. “That’s where we have to get to – to the point where we fully understand the threats to children’s safety, and how to address the challenges of reclaiming jurisdiction.”
The new legislation will be developed collaboratively with First Nations and Metis, and introduced in the House of Commons next year.