• reconciliactionyeg

What of the children for whom C-92 came too late?

Updated: Nov 13, 2021


Gitxsan Nation stops MCFD social workers from taking a child. Photo provided to APTN by Wilp Git'luuhl'um'hetxwit.

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around, does it make a sound? If Indigenous jurisdiction is asserted but not recognized does it exist?


The answer to both questions is an obvious yes. And yet.


On the evening of October 16th, “a group of Gitxsan matriarchs, hereditary chiefs, elected chiefs and community members” stopped the removal of a six-year-old child from their community by provincial child welfare authorities. [1]


Not all details of the child’s case are publicly known, but what has been shared is that their mother is a member of the Gitanmaax band, yet the child has been in foster care in Ontario. Recently, the child was in their mother’s community for an arranged family visit when provincial authorities arrived to take the child back to Ontario. The Band noted that the child arrived with a broken collarbone. [2]


According to the Git’luuhl’um’hetxwit (the child’s Gitxsan house) spokesperson Kolin Sutherland-Wilson: “We’ve been fighting this case through all the formal channels … using every avenue that was possible… In the end it always seems the only way for Gitxsan jurisdiction to be recognized in the case of child welfare is to go and serve ourselves in this way.” [3]


In response to this situation, the Government of British Columbia provided a rather generic response:


The ministry recognizes the importance of keeping a child connected to their family, including siblings and extended family, and to their First Nations, Métis or Inuit communities. To that end, we are committed to working with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities to support their ongoing involvement in discussions and planning for the well-being of children who come into contact with the child welfare system.” [4]


Words that are easy to say, and hard to put into practice.


The purpose of Bill C-92 was to “enshrine into [Canadian] law” Indigenous communities’ inherent jurisdiction over children and family services. [5] While some communities have began the process of doing so, it does not appear that Gitanmaax has, though this could not be confirmed. [6] So what are we left with in the in-between time?


The overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system is well known. The effects of removing Indigenous children from their communities can no longer be ignored, or tolerated. But it appears as though provincial and federal governments are content to allow all of this to continue, until their process, their formal recognition of what already exists – Indigenous jurisdiction over child welfare – has run its course.


What’s the answer? Decisions about a child’s welfare are too important to rush and too important to get wrong. Plus there are so many factors to consider when determining what is in the child’s best interest. But when the default is to resort to the rules of a broken system, – that’s not an answer either.


So the Gitanmaax did what they could – they asserted their jurisdiction and they stood their ground, to keep this piece of their community together.


“We have drawn the line, to ensure that all our children have access to family, culture, language and their traditional territories.” [6] - Git'luuhl'um'hetxwit Statement

It’s clear; they aren’t about to let this child become another of the too many who have lost that opportunity.


May every child have a community able to take a stand for them.



Until next time,


Team ReconciliACTION



 

[1] Lenard Monkman, “Gitanmaax members stop child from being taken from community by social workers”, CBC News (19 October 2021), online: <https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/gitanmaax-child-welfare-workers-blocked-1.6217014>.


[2] Jenessa Joy Klukas, “Gitxsan community stops B.C. social workers from taking child back into ‘care’”, APTN News (20 October 2021), online: <https://www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/gitxsan-community-stops-b-c-social-workers-from-taking-child-back-into-care/> [APTN].


[3] Ibid.


[4] Ibid quoting an emailed statement from the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development.


[5] Indigenous Services Canada, News Release, "Bill C-92: An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families receives Royal Assent" (21 June 2019), online: <https://www.canada.ca/en/indigenous-services-canada/news/2019/06/an-act-respecting-first-nations-inuit-and-metis-children-youth-and-families-receives-royal-assent.html>.


[6] APTN, supra note 2.


[7] Git'luuhl'um'hetxwit, “Breaking News” (17 October 2021), posted on Git'luuhl'um'hetxwit Media, online: Instagram <https://www.instagram.com/p/CVJNuaKhbD6/>.


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