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Cowichan Tribes members to vote on taking over child and family services

First Nation looks for full authority over services
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Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum is encouraging band members to vote on a new law this month that would reclaim the First Nation’s full authority over Child and Family Services. (Citizen file photo)

Members of Cowichan Tribes are voting on a new law this month that would reclaim full authority over Child and Family Services.

In October, 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 that would give it full authority over Child and Family Services.

That was followed by three years of intense community engagement and collaboration with Elders and band members to create the Snuw’uy’ulhtst tu Quw’utsun Mustimuhw u’ tu Shhw’a’luqwa’a’ i’ Smun’eem (Laws of the Cowichan People for Families and Children).

“We are at a defining moment in our history, with the opportunity at our fingertips to chart a happy, healthy, and culturally rich future for our smun’eem, our children,” said Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum.

“Voting yes to ratify our child law means keeping our families together and caring for our children in a way that reflects our snuw’uy’ulh (our teachings) and our ways of being, by using a lens of compassion and tl’l’tul tst (love).”

Nine cultural principles were identified to guide Child and Family Services and are embedded in the law.

The Law also acknowledges the historical harm caused by colonization and residential schools and that Quw’utsun Mustumuhw (Cowichan People) are best suited to address this harm.

It prioritizes collaborative decision-making that safeguards the child’s best interests, with a focus on identity, culture, language, and connections to family and the land.

Treaty negotiator and legal counsel Robert Morales explained that the emphasis is to move away from children being removed from their families and their communities.

“This law is going to make it very difficult to do that,” he said.

“The law mandates prevention and support for people in need with a holistic, family-centred approach, ensuring that poverty and inadequate housing are never grounds for removing children and separating families.”

Members of Cowichan Tribes can vote online starting Nov. 10, and in-person voting takes place on Nov. 24 at Si’em Lelum gymnasium.

Information sessions for Cowichan Tribes members are scheduled on Nov. 16, and 23, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., at Si’em Lelum Dining Hall.

Transportation is available by calling 250-746-1002.

Cowichan Tribes members can learn more about the law and register for online voting at https://ourchildlaw.cowichantribes.com