The Fraser Valley Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (Xyólheméylh) and Archway Community Services entered into an inter-agency collaboration agreement on Tuesday (Sept. 27) in a signing ceremony.
More than 40 people attended the ceremony, including Indigenous Elders, leaders from the Màthxwi (Matsqui) and Semà:th (Sumas) First Nations, city councillors, MLAs, and representatives from Xyólheméylh, Archway, the Abbotsford school district, Foundry’s central office and the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MFCD).
“It’s an honour to have Archway embrace the wisdom of Xyólheméylh elders to improve programming and service delivery to the Indigenous children, youth and families we serve together,” said Penny Trites, Xyólheméylh executive director of staff and community relations.
The goal of the partnership is to ensure that services provided by Archway and Xyólheméylh are integrated, coordinated and culturally safe for Indigenous clients.
The partnership also enables Indigenous children, youth and families to access a broader range of culturally safe services provided by both agencies.
Indigenous individuals have long been eligible and included in many Archway services, but Archway committed to a more inclusive and intentional approach to understanding the history, culture, protocols and priorities of Indigenous Nations in their 2019-2023 strategic plan.
“Getting here has been a beautiful journey,” said Rod Santiago, central executive director, as he shared his personal and Archway’s journey to truth and reconciliation as they’ve grown in their understanding of Indigenous culture and history.
“By being more intentional about building relationships and listening to and learning from our Indigenous neighbours, we have gained a better understanding of the resiliency of their cultures and how we can be better allies.
“This formal agreement is an important step to signify our commitment to reconciliation and supporting Indigenous self-government. We’re extremely grateful to the Elders for sharing their wisdom with us.”
Archway and Xyólheméylh agree that, whenever possible, services to Indigenous individuals should be delivered and governed by Indigenous people. Since this is currently not always possible, Archway and Xyólheméylh are committed to developing and maintaining a collaborative partnership.
Going forward, there will be regular meetings between representatives of Archway and Xyólheméylh for information sharing and guidance and for reviewing gaps and successes in community services for Indigenous individuals.
An Elders advisory group from Xyólheméylh will work directly with Archway. Their guidance will reduce barriers to access and deepen and broaden the cultural safety of services across Archway and in specific programs within the Archway Counselling, Child, Youth and Families department.
“What we have here is an amazing relationship that is going to move us forward,” said Kyla Darby, Xyólheméylh executive director of programs. “And I’m hoping this challenges other community organization to do what we’ve done here.”
The speaker of the signing ceremony was Brice James, a member of Sumas Nation who also sang with drummer Chris Jimmie to open and close the ceremony.
The agreement was signed by Santiago and Maria Cargnelli of Archway and Kyla Darby and Laura-Dawn Wilkin of Xyólheméylh.
The ceremony was witnessed by Màthxwi Chief Alice Mckay, Semà:th council member Troy Ganseveld, MCFD executive director of services Walter Serraglio, Abbotsford school superintendent Kevin Godden, deputy mayor Ross Siemens, and MLA Bruce Banman.
Witnesses commit to bringing back what they learned to their communities and shared their observations after the document signing.
Attendees were given a parting gift of a pebble for grounding and to remind people of our connection to the land and to community. Small paddles were also gifted to signify that we all share a responsibility to paddle together.
“Now we’re all in the same boat and we will travel a lot faster and a lot more efficiently,” James said.