Child welfare in British Columbia has long been a shameful part of our provincial history. As the Ministry of Children and Family Development Fact Sheet noted despite the reality that Indigenous people are less than 10% of the population, Indigenous children represent 68% of the children in care.
The provincial child welfare system has been broken for a long time and Indigenous leaders have been demanding that they have the inherent right and responsibility to take care of their own children. The provincial government has finally come to the table.
We celebrated the tabling of Bill 38: Indigenous Self-Government in Child and Family Services Amendment Act which is the first steps in dismantling this embarrassing system.
I offered my thoughts in response to the Ministerial Statement offered by Premier John Horgan and will have much more to say in second reading and committee stages of the debate.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to respond this afternoon.
I’d just like to, I think, centre this — with my father, TSAYWESUT, my grandfather TELQUILUM and our grandmother ZIȻOT at the centre of my heart, and
all of our aunties and uncles, all of our cousins and brothers and sisters who are parents — in recognition of the work that they do to build good homes and good families.
I’d like to thank Kúkpi7 Wilson, Chief Jack and Hugh Braker, for their gracious and kind words in this House. I’d like to thank the Premier for his words, and the Leader of the Opposition for his words.
Mr. Premier, I want to thank you for creating the space in this House, over the last five years, to pass the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. It took great courage to stand and to answer the questions when those questions were asked.
The first House to pass that legislation was right here in British Columbia. It was only able to be done because of the willingness of the cabinet and of the leadership to be able to carry it across the finish line. Mr. Premier, you have a great deal of respect in my heart for that work that you did. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.
Elder Alphonse, thank you for opening us in a good way. As always, I just wish that this House could open, in the way you opened it, every day, in grounding us and centring us in the work that we do.
I raise my hands in gratitude for today. The amendments that are being celebrated today are important changes that finally recognize our families’ inherent right to look after our own child welfare. This is a day to acknowledge good work: [SENĆOŦEN was spoken], as we say in our language, SENĆOŦEN — a commitment from Indigenous leaders across our province, who have tirelessly pressed forward, pleading with government after government to allow us to bring our children home. It always has been elusive.
When government has been motivated to make these changes, as we’ve seen today, to host these celebrations, as were hosted earlier in the Hall of Honour, that’s when it happens: when it becomes their priority. I’m glad that it’s the priority of this government today to put these important amendments on the table, because it has always been the priority of our families to bring our children home, to be looked after by our own relatives, to learn the teachings of who they are. The lands and the waters that they belong to should surround them, their sacred connections to their S¸ELELW̱ÁÁN, their ancestors.
Mr. Speaker, I have plenty of time to dig into the legislation, to understand how much of the paternalism is actually being deconstructed and how much of the information that government holds about our family members will be made available, so that we can bring our displaced children home to the places that they’re supposed to be.
Today — just as those who came before them — the leaders who spoke in the Hall of Honour, the leaders that we’ve welcomed onto the floor of this chamber, have demonstrated a remarkable level of graciousness and patience with this assembly.
Even as this institution pushes forward, delivering on its own priorities in the only way it knows, we are encouraged and reminded to recognize the powerful ceremony that’s available and around us at all times, which will set this work in a good direction.
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with this assembly. Even as this institution pushes forward, delivering on its own priorities in the only way it knows, we are encouraged and reminded to recognize the powerful ceremony that’s available and around us at all times, which will set this work in a good direction.
I raise my hands to all my relatives who have faced so much at the hands of this institution and who have chosen to be gracious. My elder, who reminded me just before coming into the chamber here today that there is a rightful space that must be set aside to acknowledge accomplishment and progress. There is another day. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.
I’ll end with this. There are many of our relatives who are displaced from their homes, many of our relatives who are not with us today because the child welfare system failed them. I hold in my heart today, as I speak, those people. I ask the members of this assembly to keep them in their thoughts as we debate this legislation and hold on to the hope that the changes that we celebrate today mean that our relatives no longer experience displacement and disconnection from the places that they belong to or the untimely loss of a loved one. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.