Legislative amendments to the province’s Child, Family and Community Service Act represent a significant step towards reconciliation, according to Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum.
British Columbia announced on Oct. 26 that it is changing provincial legislation to remove barriers for Indigenous peoples exercising jurisdiction over child and family services, becoming the first province in Canada to expressly recognize this inherent right within provincial legislation.
The amendments, the largest in more than 25 years, will respect the inherent rights of Indigenous communities to provide their own child and family services, and to keep Indigenous children safely connected to their cultures and their communities.
The changes will also help to further address and reduce the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in provincial care.
Hwitsum said the amendments recognize that for the last 150 years, B.C.’s laws and policies regarding Indigenous children and child welfare have had severe impacts on Cowichan Tribes families.
“The recognition of our inherent right to govern and provide services for our children and families provides a new and positive path forward,” she said.
“This day heralds the achievement of the goal pursued for many years by successive chiefs and councils. Cowichan Tribes look forward to working together with the province on the implementation of this new direction.”
The modernized legislation is intended to support Indigenous peoples to re-establish, develop and exercise child-welfare laws for their community members and to recreate their own models for child and family service delivery, including family support, child protection and adoption services.
Upholding jurisdiction is expected to have an unparalleled positive impact on Indigenous children, youth and families, respecting and facilitating connections to communities, and resulting in healthier lifelong outcomes.
The amendments were developed in consultation and co-operation with Indigenous rights holders, Modern Treaty Nations, Indigenous Governing Bodies, Métis Nation BC and Indigenous partners.
“This is a pivotal shift toward real and meaningful change that respects Indigenous rights and improves services and supports for Indigenous children, youth and families,” said Premier John Horgan.
“B.C. was the first province to bring the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into provincial law, and it’s fulfilling to see how that bold action continues to create reforms that support reconciliation and make life better for Indigenous communities.”
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs’ Grand Chief Stewart Phillip added that the legislation can’t be passed soon enough.
“This legislation holds the promise of finally affirming the inherent rights of First Nations to ensure our children are with their families, communities and people,” he said.
“It brings me incredible joy to think about this change in my lifetime, and for my grandchildren and great grandchildren. As Indigenous peoples, we have the right to exercise self-determination over our children and we are glad this is finally being recognized through law.”