Cowichan Tribes has voted to reclaim full authority over child and family services for its members.
In voting that ended on Nov. 24, 83 per cent of the 416 citizens who cast ballots voted in favour of the new law that will see full jurisdiction over child and family services return to B.C.’s largest First Nation after many generations.
“Quw’utsun Mustimuhw (Cowichan People) have overwhelmingly voted in support of our law and our inherent right to govern our children and families guided by our snuw’uy’ulh, our cultural teachings, and with respect for our family customs,” said Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum.
“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. 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.”
Implementation of the Cowichan Tribes authority over child and family services will begin in 2024, with a phased-in approach over the course of two years.
While Cowichan Tribes gained delegated authority over child and family wellness in 1996, some cases involving Cowichan children and youth continued to be managed in the provincial system, and Cowichan social workers were required to follow provincial legislation and regulations.
“The passing of our law empowers us to fully implement our Cowichan ways of caring for our children and families,” said Addie Price, acting director of Lalum’utul’ Smun’eem, Child and Family Services.
“There are a lot of preparations needed, but we can’t wait to begin the transition to our law and its holistic approach to family well-being and proactive supports to prevent situations requiring late stage intervention.”
In 2020, following the passage of Bill C-92, An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, Youth and Families, Cowichan Tribes formally notified the federal and provincial governments of its intent to exercise jurisdiction and develop its own law.
Cowichan Tribes was among the initial 11 First Nations across Canada that began this process.
With the passing of the law, basic support services will be available to all Cowichan Tribes families to strengthen family relationships, parenting and life skills, health care, language and culture.
Additional support services will be offered to families facing challenges such as poverty, inadequate housing, substance misuse, or mental health issues.
Other support services may include domestic violence programs, services for smun’eem with special needs, mediation, in-home support, respite care, and more.
The next steps will include the creation of a Child and Family Services Authority, known as Stsi’elh stuhw’ew’thw tun Smun’eem (Honouring Our Sacred Children and Families) with a board of directors of five to nine directors.