The good news is that the Ministry of Children and Family Development has taken the first step in improving Indigenous child welfare in British Columbia.
As the Minister said in her introductory speech of Bill 38: Indigenous Self-Government in Child and Family Services Amendment Act, “this proposed legislation would align the Adoption Act with the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, while changes to the CFCSA (Child, Family, and Community Services Act) will reduce barriers to Indigenous jurisdiction over Indigenous child and family services in British Columbia.
It is hard to believe this actually happening.
However, we must be careful not celebrate before the work is done. As I outline in my extensive response at second reading, the so-called child welfare system is a tool of oppression used by Crown governments, grounded in the racist and genocidal policies from 120 years ago, to dispossess Indigenous People from their territories and wealth. The system is designed to undermine Indigenous women and children.
Changing the laws is a first step, an important step, but just a first step.
What is needed going forward is a total commitment from Crown governments to resource the new Indigenous child welfare programs and services, reform the Crown-Indigenous fiscal relationship, and de-program the Canadian population of the harmful myths our governments created and perpetuated about Indigenous People.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak at second reading to Bill 38, Indigenous Self-Government in Child and Family Services Amendment Act.
This has been a challenging speech for me to prepare for. There are many swirling emotions: anger, sadness and hope. I’ve had an extra week for this to percolate. I wrote 25 pages. Then I rewrote it into a much briefer 40 pages before settling on this 35 pages that I have with me here today.
I’d like to start by just saying that some of the things that I’m going to say here may be challenging for somebody here. I just want to acknowledge that it may activate some people just because of the history of where we have come from. Likely we’re going to go over the 30 minutes, so I just note that I’m the designated speaker for our caucus.
Deputy Speaker: Thank you.
A. Olsen: This speech is about the child welfare system in British Columbia, specifically the Indigenous child welfare system. It’s a heinous story of our past and our present. I discuss genocide, human experimentation, psychological, physical, sexual and emotional abuse. I take some time to highlight where we have come from and where we are. My hope is that in telling this hideous truth that it doesn’t also be our future.
This bill comes with a lot of promise of a new era of reconciliation. Indigenous people and communities are finally allowed to self-determine, control their own child welfare policy, programs and services.
[J. Tegart in the chair.]
This bill was tabled on October 26, 2022, halfway through this fall sitting. There were 17 scheduled sitting days left in the 2022 parliamentary calendar. On November 3, 2022, a Government House Leader motion cancelled four sitting days, November 14 to 17, to reduce the time for this debate. Second reading speeches had not yet been completed. Committee stage debate had yet to begin. We are adjourning on Thursday, when the government needs this bill to be completed for royal assent.
I sincerely hope that at the end of this week, this bill is not part of any time allocation motion. Further reducing debate on this bill is unacceptable. After all the celebration that has been done on this bill, this work that we do in this House must, on behalf of all the kids that we’re going to talk about, be thorough.
Duncan Campbell Scott joined the Department of Indian Affairs in 1879. He served as deputy superintendent from 1913 to 1932. In 1920, he was quoted as saying: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think, as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone…Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, there is no Indian question and there is no Indian department.”
This philosophy is at the core of his Indigenous policy. Scott has been called an extreme assimilationist, but in plain language, the policy amounted to genocide. They admitted as much. He admitted as much. They wanted to eliminate Indigenous cultures and Nations. Indigenous people had too many legal rights and genuine claims to the land and resources that our early parliamentarians wanted to control.
The plan was to deliberately undermine and erode language and culture. At the same time, they outlawed our sacred rituals, ceremonies and governance structures. They collected Indigenous people under Indian reserves, governed by the Indian Act — a racist law that still exists today. Desperate underfunding created chronic intergenerational poverty. Indigenous people endured relentless wave after wave after wave after wave of attacks on our ways of life.
Hundreds of Crown, government-sanctioned, church-run, day, industrial and residential schools were opened. They, along with Indian hospitals, unleashed an unspeakable hell across our country. The government attacked families, deliberately breaking the bond between parent and child. Indian agents and the RCMP rounded up children and sent them to faraway residential institutions. Indigenous children were separated from their siblings. They were punished for communicating with their brothers, sisters and cousins.
When the parents learned what their children were suffering at the hands of day school masters, they were threatened that the government officials would scoop their kids and send them away to the residential version if they said anything. If the children shared the horrors of the residential schools with their parents and the parents spoke up, then they were threatened that their children would not be allowed to come home.
Generations of Indigenous children were taught not to trust, but worse, they were taught to hate their parents for not intervening in the experimentation, physical sexual, psychological and emotional abuse. For decades, we have heard about the child welfare system here in British Columbia — the tentacles of Scott’s philosophy reaching into today. We have heard about the Sixties Scoop. Government agents taking Indigenous children by the thousands and sending them far away from their home territories to be adopted, fostered and raised by non-Indigenous people.
The impact of these policies has been heartbreaking. As much as we would prefer to believe that we are here today, cleaning up the mess from the past, let us not forget this bill, removing the patriarchal, genocidal, extreme assimilationist child welfare philosophy and replacing it with a self-determined, Indigenous-led child welfare program, is the work that we are doing today.
Pamela Palmater, chair in Indigenous governance at Toronto Metropolitan University, is quoted in The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, saying:
“So why is it so important to understand the history of genocide in Canada? Because it’s not history. Today’s racist government laws, policies and actions have proven to be just as deadly for Indigenous peoples as the genocidal acts of the past. What used to be the theft of Indigenous children into residential schools is now the theft of children into provincial foster care. What used to be the scalping bounties are now starlight tours — deaths in police custody. Racism for Indigenous people in Canada is not just about enduring stereotypical insults and name calling, being turned away for employment or being vilified in the media by government officials. Racism is killing our people.”
The government attacks were comprehensive. The focus was on Indigenous women and children. The national inquiry heard, distilled and articulated the facts of life for Indigenous women in Canada. The statistics in the report, the numbers we hear regularly in the media, paint a picture of the grim reality. They are the facts.
Indigenous women and girls are more likely to go missing, more likely to be murdered, more likely to end up incarcerated, more likely to experience sexual assaults and stranger violence, more likely to end up in the sex trade. On and on and on it goes. These Crown institutions have been waging war on Indigenous people for centuries. While we tell stories about who we are — nice, compassionate and apologetic Canadians — the reality is that our government has been planning and executing an attempted annihilation through systematic and institutional policy targeting Indigenous women and children. The statistics are really just an accounting, an evaluation of the effectiveness of the stated Crown programs and policies.
Indigenous women were segregated from their communities through discriminatory gender laws. Their children were removed from them at birth, often because of no fault of their own but because of poverty, because the government had targeted their mothers, grandmothers and aunties. Indigenous children were abducted from their families and communities. They were adopted, fostered or sent to a group home to languish, isolated, in a hostile world.
The legislation that we have before us is changing that British Columbia child welfare system that philosophy. The minister, former ministers, the deputy minister and her predecessors are all characters in this horror show. We talk about the Sixties Scoop like it was an early chapter in a story book, but the reality for Indigenous women, mothers and their babies is that the ruthless attacks have never stopped. The scooping continues to this day. No matter how this government wants to draft the narrative of an improving storyline, even before we pass this legislation and the new regulations are in place, and the responsibility for the child welfare system has been transferred from a minister sitting in this chamber to an Indigenous leader in communities around the province, the members here remain complicit actors in this script, ensuring that the commitments marked by the celebrations indeed come true.
Indigenous leaders have been calling for these changes for decades. They have been told that it cannot be done. They have been told that Indigenous people cannot be trusted to raise our own children. Only the state is equipped to know what is best for our families. Even as we pause on September 30 to recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Orange Shirt Day, remembering all the children that were sent away from their mothers and fathers to residential school, all the children who did not come home from school…. We have framed it as in our history.
Note. The child welfare systems that exist today are connected directly to all those reprehensible events in history. Note. The underlying motivation for maintaining those systems until very recently, like just a few short months ago when this minister began engaging Indigenous leaders on the drafting of this bill, has been the same racist and discriminatory beliefs and philosophy seeded by the deputy superintendent Scott and the Canadian identity more than 100 years ago.
Through all the laws, policies and programs implemented by our government that were designed to destroy Indigenous people to gain control over the lands and resources, our families survived. There are many of our relatives who are casualties of this war, tens of thousands who died, were disabled and disconnected; cultures, languages and knowledge-keepers reduced to a fraction of what they once were.
I stand here today because of the resilience of my grandmother and great aunties and aunties, the matriarchs whose babies were torn from their clutches and sent away to have their Indigeneity purged from their memories and their identity, those powerful women who encouraged me to stand and speak truthfully to honour the spirit of the survival that lives in their hearts.
While it is easy for members to stand in this chamber and celebrate the turning of another page, the beginning of another chapter, this moment is a long time in coming for leaders in Indigenous communities. Our relatives have out endured and outlasted round after round of punishment and attacks.
It is difficult to believe that it’s actually true. Has the Crown really grown weary and weakened? Are they finally ready to submit? The tabling of this bill has been celebrated as historic. However, very little more has actually been accomplished today. This is not the end but rather the beginning, and there is much more than the machinery of genocide to dismantle.
How do we start a new chapter in a good way? How do we honour all of our relatives who did not survive the tortuous decades of government policy? I’ve always been taught that atonement begins with an apology. After the decades of the repugnant actions of this provincial Crown government, we are changing the laws with celebration, but no apology.
In his ministerial statement at the tabling of this bill, the former Premier, the member for Langford–Juan de Fuca, said the following:
“Recognizing the inherent rights of Indigenous people to care for their own children seems to me to be the easiest thing we could possibly do, but it has taken us a great deal of time to get here. It is another step along the way, and we need to do more. I want to say, on behalf of the government of today, that we will acknowledge and atone for the wrongs in the child welfare system and will engage with Indigenous peoples to come up with the appropriate language to ensure that we recognize and atone for the sins of the past, not those who are here today, but those who are here before us.”
From the member’s perspective, acknowledging the inherent — note the word inherent — rights of Indigenous people to care for their own children is easy. In fact, it was the easiest thing he could do, or so he says. A Premier will eventually atone. But only once, the Premier’s office has worked with the Indigenous people to come up with the language of atonement.
What makes all this so difficult to believe is that this bill represents an historic collaboration between the Crowns and Indigenous governing bodies. It feels like there was plenty of time to draft the language of atonement. From the outside, it appears what was missing was the priority, the political will to atone.
From the former Premier’s performance, atonement appears to be what is challenging. In fact, it was so challenging that he actually didn’t get it accomplished before he left the big office, which was actually a long-and-drawn-out process with plenty of time, which is further evidence to the fact that it was political will that was lacking.
Further, I wonder what the former Premier meant when he said: “Atone for the sins of the past, not of those who are here today but of those who were here before us.” It is wrong to land the responsibility of this child welfare system that exists today, that we’re changing with this bill, that actually hasn’t been changed yet, entirely onto the shoulders of our predecessors. They are the reason it exists, but it’s not entirely their responsibility for it not being changed yet. That’s on this House, the members here today.
Why didn’t the Premier just apologize? According to him, this day has taken a great deal of time to get here. What is another day or two to draft a meaningful apology? I cannot believe there wouldn’t be willing drafters of that apology at the Leadership Council or even in our government’s own Declaration Act secretariat. Before we can reset this system that has failed Indigenous people so entirely, recognition, acknowledgment and a full apology is proper.
Clearly, it was on the mind of the Leadership Council. Kúkpi7 Judy Wilson said in her remarks on the floor of this chamber on that historic day: “We encourage the B.C. government to apologize in full, in a meaningful way, as the legislation, while a major shift in the right direction, must come with a sincere apology and create a climate of respect that is necessary for reconciliation.”
As much gratitude as I had for the former Premier in my response to his ministerial statement, the former Premier, his government, his political party all missed an opportunity to deliver that full, meaningful and sincere apology.
I’m sure there were a lot of excuses outlined as to why an apology was not possible. However, I must emphasize that the lack of an apology to individuals, families and nations was a choice, and it speaks for itself. The fact that the former Premier mentioned it shows that the government knew it was a priority for leaders of Indigenous communities. But it seems the priority of this government was to make Indigenous people wait. Now that they knew an apology was meaningful, we’re just going to have to wait for it.
When we gathered with leaders of some Indigenous nations in the Hall of Honour on Wednesday, October, 26, 2022, what were we doing? Were we memorializing the hundreds and thousands of Indigenous children and families whose lives were broken by the British Columbia child welfare system? Were we commemorating those who suffered decades of abuse, neglect, poverty and incarceration, the inevitable result of being torn from their family and placed in a system that cares more about economics than well-being?
Were we celebrating the success of Indigenous leaders who have finally wrestled the Ministry of Children and Family Development into a submission hold, taking the child welfare systems out of the desperate clutches of this Crown government? What were we doing? Acknowledging the work that was done or the work that is yet to come? On that historic day, I was confused.
Does this institution, built on rock and stone, have such a fragile temperament that it needs an interim reward, a little gold star for a good job — ÍY SĆÁ, as we say in SENĆOŦEN — for finally creating a pathway for Indigenous families to govern their own child welfare?
In the teachings that have been shared with me, celebration is reserved for work that is done. The event in the Hall of Honour was before any amendments had been tabled, before any laws enacted, before any regulations considered and written, before any agreements signed and before any lives had been improved.
A few minutes after the event in the Hall of Honour, the former Premier and his Minister of Children and Families invited those Elders, leaders and youth into this chamber. We opened with prayer. We suspended regular business and invited the leaders to stand and speak to the members of this assembly, all before the minister had tabled the amendments, all before most Indigenous Elders, leaders and youth, before the public and before the survivors of our cruel child welfare system had a chance to lay eyes on the amendments.
That awkward event brought clarity: just how deeply entrenched the colonial mindset is in this province. This institution, this government needs encouragement and recognition for intending to do good work.
For a century, the so-called child welfare system has been a key weapon to control Indigenous children, families and communities. It is a deeply embedded part of the Canadian identity, the identity of this Crown government, fomenting falsehoods like Indigenous mothers are bad parents and Indigenous fathers are absent.
The Hall of Honour event was designed to make the members of this assembly feel successful. And Indigenous people? Well, we were meant to feel something else: grateful. We are supposed to hold this B.C. NDP government up in gratitude for finally creating a pathway for our mothers and fathers, for Indigenous leaders and communities to take control of our own children’s welfare. That is how twisted and backward this institution can be. It comes down to being able to tell a story — a story of success before much success has been achieved — and gratitude, heaping glory upon this government for good intentions, even when so little has yet to be accomplished.
The minister and her staff might frame my comments as being unfair. Work has been done. Some nations, some leaders were invited behind the curtain to meet the wizard, but only after signing a non-disclosure agreement. Is that what the event in the hall, the event in this chamber…? Is that what we were memorializing and commemorating? Is that what we were celebrating?
Were we celebrating the Minister of Children and Family Development, her senior officials, the Premier, the cabinet, the Treasury Board finally sitting at the table with Indigenous leaders with a willingness to discuss a pathway for the government to finally relinquish control over the welfare of Indigenous children? Celebration comes after ÍY TŦEN SĆÁ, the good work, is done, not before.
I’m here at second reading in this legislative process. No laws have changed. No regulations have changed. What we have before us is a potential pathway. Pardon me for my skepticism. As I started this speech, it’s been a long, long road. But in the spirit of reconciliation, I will embrace the optimism expressed by the Elders and leaders in the Hall of Honour and on the floor of this assembly.
I have not been on the front-line struggle for decades of my working career, and to all those people who have fought who have fought this government, have fought for decades to achieve this moment that we’re here today talking about. I mean no disrespect. I raise my hands in gratitude to you, not to the provincial government or to a political party. I raise my hands in gratitude to all of our leaders who have been working for this moment.
My job is to scrutinize this government — this bill, the work, the intention, the promises — and actions and outcomes. That’s why I’ve lingered so long here. I want to celebrate the destruction of this gruesome child welfare system that has devastated our families, our languages, our cultures and our laws. However, I will not be dragged into a government communications exercise, writing fiction. When it comes to the lives of our children, our families, our communities and our nations, I’m only into telling the story just exactly as it is.
This is where the story written by Anna McKenzie emerges. Anna was here on that historic day, invited to sit in the gallery and witness the celebration, the tabling of this bill, the praise and the gratitude.
A few days after the historic celebration in the Hall of Honour and in this chamber, I was forwarded a tweet from McKenzie, showing the image of a letter she received from the provincial government. Anna is a mother from Opaskwayak Cree Nation, and she is also a storyteller. She and her colleague Brielle Morgan are investigative journalists at IndigiNews. In 2020 and 2021, they investigated and published extensively on birth alerts. I’d recommend you visit IndigiNews online and read their work. It’s good work.
In her January 12, 2021 article, McKenzie writes the following:
“When a social worker feels an expectant parent may put their newborn at risk, they can issue a ‘birth alert’ or a ‘hospital alert,’ flagging the expectant parent to hospital staff, without their consent, and directing them to notify social workers as soon as the baby is born.”
For Indigenous women, birth alerts are a terrifying reality. To provide some context, I’m going to quote from an interview with McKenzie, Morgan and their colleague Tessa Vikander, that was published on Indiegraf. McKenzie says:
“I felt a lot of fear delivering my first child because of the threat of birth alerts and the overrepresentation of Indigenous families involved in the child welfare system. I wanted to draw attention to, and question, the issue, to protect Indigenous families from losing their babies.”
Morgan is quoted as saying:
“In B.C., birth alerts have resulted in child apprehension ‘approximately 28 percent of the time,’ according to an MCFD record from 2019. These alerts disproportionately impact Indigenous children and families in Canada; 58 percent of parents impacted by birth alerts in B.C. in 2018 were Indigenous, according to the B.C. government’s data.”
Vikander is quoted as saying:
“There are many Indigenous families who may have been subjected to birth alerts without even knowing it. So it was important to get the issue back on people’s radar. Furthermore, what we learned from the FOI documents was new and hadn’t been reported before.
“We saw that it was significant, and we were right, as evidenced by the proposed class action lawsuit that was later filed on behalf of parents — a direct result of the reporting. The impact of a birth alert, when it leads to a baby being taken away from its parents in hospital, can haunt a family for the rest of their lives.”
On November 2, 2022, Mackenzie and her colleagues at IndigiNews received a letter from a lawyer named John Tuck. It was the second letter they’d received from Mr. Tuck. He represents the province of British Columbia.
The second letter was essentially the same as the first letter he sent to them on January 8, 2021. He was notifying IndigiNews that some of the information they received from the province through a freedom-of-information request was deemed to be protected by solicitor-client privilege. He told them they needed to return the entire package of information immediately.
McKenzie and Morgan decided that the information they received was in the public interest, then they published their story using the information in question. The information in question outlines that on May 6, 2019, the Ministry of Children and Family Development was informed by the Attorney General that hospital alerts were “illegal and unconstitutional” and posed a potential “litigation risk” for the province. Again, May 6, 2019. The timeline is important here. It wasn’t until four months later, September 16, 2019, that the former Minister of Children and Family Development announced that she was banning hospital alerts.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls found “birth alerts are racist and discriminatory and are a gross violation of the rights of the child, the mother and the community.” When the minister announced the end of birth alerts, she stated that it was the result of the hard work of Indigenous advocates and the finding of the national inquiry that prompted the action.
There was no mention of the legal advice provided by the Attorney General — the same advice, covered by solicitor-client privilege, that Mr. Tuck has been tasked with recovering. The public aren’t supposed to know the embarrassing bits — that the former Minister of Children and Family Development, who is now the Minister of Forests, might not have been solely motivated by the reports and the good advocacy of Indigenous people but rather out of fear of the legal and financial exposure this system creates for the provincial government.
After all, this is the same ministry whose operatives were breaking privacy laws. This is the same minister who sat on the information for four months before announcing the good news that the ministry social workers were no longer going to break the law when they abduct these children from their mothers.
The second letter sent by Mr. Tuck was interesting for a variety of reasons. The timing, actually, couldn’t be worse. Just as the provincial government had celebrated that historic moment announcing a new pathway for Indigenous nations to once again be allowed the responsibility of their own child welfare, a letter from a government lawyer desperately tasked with collecting the robes that were shed in error for an emperor walking naked on a pathway. That was published.
The letter appears hastily crafted, referencing: “Only the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General have the authority to waive solicitor-client privilege held by Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia, and there has been no such waiver of solicitor-client privilege in relation to the records responsive to your access request.”
Her Majesty the Queen had passed away long before McKenzie and Morgan received this second letter and had been replaced by her son, His Majesty the King. It seems Mr. Tuck wrote the letter months before and sat on it or didn’t have time to edit it. The Attorney General referenced in this letter is, of course, our new Premier. All of this is to say: “What the hell is going on here?”
At the same moment that we are celebrating a monumental achievement. government lawyers are working to cover their tracks. Instead of recognizing the information they sought to protect was already made public 18 months ago and abandoning efforts to strike the evidence from the record, asking all of us to collectively forget what we already know to be true, Mr. Tuck, empowered by somebody in the system, perseveres.
What we do know is that during the 20 months between January 2018 and September 2019, there are 444 hospital alerts issued and that, during 2018, 58 percent of them involved Indigenous people. That was under a B.C. NDP government.
Even after the same government celebrated the historic changes to the child welfare system, they continued to work in the shadows, harassing and haranguing Indigenous reporters long after it was too late. Why?
I share this story because I want to highlight the important work of the investigative journalism of Anna McKenzie, Brielle Morgan and Tessa Vikander. Their courageous efforts have exposed the extent to which the Ministry of Children and Family Development is prepared to go to protect their interests —not the interests of the reporters, the interests of the ministry. Further, their experience is a warning to all those that accept the word of a provincial government, specifically the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
This story demonstrates a duplicity that we must continue to be wary of. On one hand, the provincial government is standing up speakers to celebrate a historic transformation, and at the same time, their lawyers are sending threatening letters to silence and bury the truth. Someone needs to be held accountable for breaching the privacy of Indigenous women in hospital. Clearly, this government does not want that to happen.
Over time, the darkness makes way for the daylight and a more complete understanding emerges — just one of the reasons why early celebrations are not advisable. If there was a lesson in the work of Mr. Tuck, it is that despite this government’s desire to tell a positive story, this institution is still trying to control the narrative.
I understand that to participate in the process of developing the bill in front of us, the government required Indigenous participants to sign non-disclosure agreements. Some signed; many didn’t. For those who did sign the NDA, they got a chance to go into the black box and take part in the debates and negotiations. They knew what the event in the Hall of Honour was for, the content of the bill. They knew the words that were said behind closed doors.
For those who didn’t sign the NDA, they didn’t see the bill until after the celebration. They have no idea what was said in the discussion. They don’t know what was on the table and what was not. They are entirely relying on the good job done by their relatives, and they’re relying on the members of this assembly to debate and inspect this bill thoroughly.
I understand that those NDAs remain in place today. The discussions are secret. The negotiations are for only a few, who submitted to the process designed by this Crown government and the political operatives of the B.C. NDP. The rest of us remain in the darkness. Why the secrecy? I can understand the need for some limited use in drafting the bill, but even then, we are deconstructing a system that I think we all agree is terrible. Why can’t this be done in the open? Even if lawyers like Mr. Tuck and others in the Attorney General’s office can argue the need for secrecy in negotiations, there should be little to hide now that this bill is laid before us.
We’re just a day away from going through this bill clause by clause. I and my colleagues will be asking the minister questions about the content of this bill. We want to know about the decisions the ministry made in drafting it. In a few of the presentations, we heard some coded remarks criticizing the process. The Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, the acting Attorney General was the emcee in the Hall of Honour the day of the celebration. When he returned to the mic following one particular speaker, he noted and welcomed the criticism, the faces of others lining the wall. Key individuals involved in the process told a completely different story though — less than welcoming, a far colder reception to the criticism.
Why do the NDAs remain in place? Who is this government protecting themselves from? The people and families whose lives they destroyed? The people and families whose privacy they may have breached?
Ultimately, that’s the mission that Mr. Tuck was sent on. Collect the unfortunate bits of information leaked to the public in error. Protect the institution from exposure and increased litigation risk.
Remember last spring when I stood and asked the former Premier if he would intervene on behalf of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw. They’ve been trying to get access to the information about their children in the child welfare system. As I wrote at the time: “The nation has been notified that the deputy director of child welfare decided that the information requested was not going to be disclosed. Despite the commitments of” the Minister of Children and Family Development, her deputy minister, “the provincial government lawyers in the Attorney General’s” office
“are using narrow interpretations of the law to withhold vital information that the nation needs to facilitate the development of their programs and to ensure that they’re able to meet their cultural laws. The Premier states his government has made transformational change with regards to reconciliation, and yet these terrible situations persist. He says he’s willing to sit with me and discuss this issue further, but he need not meet with me. He needs to meet with the leadership of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nation. He should not delay.”
Despite his public comments in the chamber, the former Premier didn’t meet with me. He didn’t meet with the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw. Instead, he put it off on the Minister of Children and Family Development. It appears that this government is not interested in sharing historic information, because they fear the legal reprisals of those whose lives they interfered with and destroyed.
Even as the minister stands in here and expresses how honoured she is to be able to lead this transformational work, her ministry has the participants of that work locked in NDAs. There are all sorts of problems with this. As I outlined earlier, in addition to changing the child welfare laws, which fortunately this bill actually does, this B.C. NDP government wants to be able to tell a story about themselves. All Indigenous people are to remember who did this work.
However, as we’ve learned from reading the history books, the narrative is written by the people who control the process, the people who hold the pen, people telling the story. When we are invited to participate in the celebration, it is honorable for the hosts to be clear what we’re celebrating. In this case, we were celebrating a process, the process to develop amendments that create a pathway for the provincial government to relinquish control and responsibility of the child welfare system to Indigenous nations that meet the standards and criteria set by the provincial government.
There appears to be a lot of paternalism remaining in this process. As I made clear earlier, we were not there in the Hall of Honour to celebrate the passing of law or regulations. We were there to celebrate a collaborative process. It appears the only party in that process that is free to craft the narrative is this Crown government. Anything could have happened. Anything could have been said. Anything could have been requested. Anything could have been denied. There could have been threats made. The process might have even been politicized. All the information that is part of the process is unavailable to the nations who do not participate, to the public and to the survivors of the child welfare system — emphasis on that last stakeholder.
Many of the children who have been removed from their communities and survived the system have no idea who is and who is not negotiating on their behalf. They might not know there is information that could connect them with their relatives. They might not know who should be held accountable and responsible for stealing their belonging to their community, their culture, their language, their teaching, their identity, their birth rights and their family.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development and Attorney General are not trying to protect the privacy of those people. In fact, it’s likely they breached the privacy of their mothers many years earlier when they issued a birth alert when they were in labour. The secrecy is necessary to protect the Ministry of Children and Family Development and Attorney General and the province of British Columbia from increased risk of litigation.
If this work is truly what it appears to be, then this government will embrace the criticism that may be necessary. The acting Attorney General welcomed it in words.
A process centred around the changing of the culture of an institution that has brought our province such shame and embarrassment and huge liability to both the provincial and the federal Crown governments should be open, collaborative and informed by a multi-partisan process, not one hiding in the darkness under the shadow of nondisclosure agreements. A government focused on governing rather than playing politics should have engaged a select standing committee to undertake this work. We do not need a political process to tear this culture down. We need a technical one.
I can understand how there may be need for some confidentiality and how nondisclosure agreements may be needed to a certain point. I’ve signed those agreements with governments as well in the past. However, what I outlined today are the dangers of when those tools are applied too liberally. If this government believes the words they say about inherent rights of Indigenous people, if they believe in our right to self-determination, then they will free us from nondisclosure agreements. They will listen. They will hear, and they will act, not just to a few select people willing to sign their NDAs but even to the dissenters. I have a strong sense that that’s not what happened here.
Over decades, the Crown government has been investing time, money and effort into a specific narrative about Indigenous parents. To justify the child welfare state, these stories have become part of our culture, deeply embedded in the Canadian and British Columbian identity. It’s a belief that has grown out of the constant, sad and desperate stories we hear about Indigenous children in care.
Despite being less than 10 percent of the population, Indigenous children make up 68 percent of the children in care. Over decades, an awful belief that Indigenous people are bad parents has evolved. We are not bad parents. It is a narrative spawned because of our own government’s policy and the governments that came before it. It is a narrative that Crown governments propagated to support their forced assimilation policies; to destroy Indigenous ways of being, taking us away from our parents, our culture, our teachings and our language; to separate us from our territory; to break our spirits; to exploit and steal the wealth generated from the natural resources extracted from the territories that I and my relatives belong to.
I’ve been told stories of Indigenous women being profiled and stopped by police just to check on the kids in the car. I’ve personally seen the parking lot dramas of community members questioning the parenting choices of Indigenous parents. My relative told me a story of his children being apprehended and sent off to Europe on a bus and a train and an airplane, ripped away from their family, only to come back decades later looking to reunite with their father and their culture.
This story has been deliberately constructed by the Crown governments through laws like the federal Indian Act. We all must understand that the residential and day schools were created within our federal parliament with the intention from our elected representatives to “kill the Indian in the child.” The destination was the destruction of Indigenous people, culture and language. The key target of these genocidal acts, like I said earlier, were our children, our women and our mothers. Our women and children were the target of the amendments that we debate here today. The child welfare system we’re talking about is an extension of that terrible philosophy.
Indigenous people are not bad parents. The number of Indigenous children and youth in the child welfare system is not a reflection of Indigenous parents. It’s a statement about the actions taken in this chamber and in our House of Commons.
It is the result of the intentional tearing down and tearing apart of Indigenous families, cultures and communities. It is a result of an unyielding attack on the credibility, reliability and responsibility of Indigenous women and mothers. It is a result of the abject poverty created by scarcity and from the dispossessing, discrediting and dismantling of Indigenous people from their land, their culture and their wealth. It is the result of greedy governments that have hoarded resources from Indigenous people for over 150 years. That is why nothing short of an apology — in the words of the former Premier, atonement — is acceptable.
Kúkpi7 Judy Wilson stood on the floor of this Legislature and said:
“For our families, we were categorized as bad parents or also categorized, by the Ministry of Child and Family Development, in other shaming and negative words as they interacted with the child welfare system, and that ends today. Those were not our terms. They were part of the shame placed on our families and especially our women, many of whom had their children removed at birth and never had a chance to fulfil their rights as Indigenous mothers and pass along our culture, our identity and the values to the next generation.”
Terry Teegee, the Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said:
“The forced removal of Indigenous children for generations, through residential schools and the child welfare system, has been a deep source of pain and injustice. Today that era comes to an end in British Columbia. Will it be easy to make all the changes needed when it has been entrenched for so long that First Nations have not been seen as good parents due to racism and stereotypes? No, it will not. We will never go back to those days again, and together, we will work to ensure that our children grow up to be the people they wish to be, with the love and support of our peoples in every part of their lives.”
It is the hope expressed by Kúkpi7 Wilson and Regional Chief Teegee that inspires me to dig deep into this promise made by the B.C. NDP that all this terrible history of child welfare in British Columbia, the systematic destruction of our families, does truly and totally end with the passing of this bill. If this work does not result in the end of that awful system, then it is just another false promise designed to fan the political aspirations of a government. Nothing more.
If the latter is the case, then it will have happened on my watch, on our watch. This is the first public debate of these amendments. So much rides on the questions we ask and the answers we receive, the tension we create and the expectations we establish. So much rides on the hope that this government, this ministry, this minister and her senior staff are engaging in this process and sitting at the table in good faith.
That is why the what of this bill and the ensuing regulations depend on how it is going to be achieved. Will the resources be made available to ensure success?
The Crown-Indigenous fiscal framework is broken. Despite the recognition of rights and title and sovereignty, Indigenous nations do not have the power to generate wealth from their territories and to fund programs and services such as child welfare. I have raised this main, chief concern that I have with this B.C. NDP government many times over. They make grand announcements, host celebrations, solidify support, but when it comes to the implementation, there is never any access to the fiscal tools and resources that are needed to make the wheels of progress turn on behalf of Indigenous people.
The Declaration Act was the first necessary step in changing the legal framework that we work in. However, it is nothing more than window dressing if Indigenous nations cannot access consistent and reliable revenue. The Crown government cannot keep acting as the sole gatekeeper of the revenue.
As the Indigenous leaders I’ve worked with…. They remind me that they are constantly managing poverty while all the wealth of their territories is kept just out of their reach by this provincial government. Indigenous nations will not be able to do this work well if we continue to have to manage poverty that was deliberately created and continuously maintained and that has resulted in these devastating conditions that we’re talking about in our community.
Indigenous nations will not be able to do this work if our leaders are having to navigate political minefields that do not serve their communities but only serve some select people in this chamber. As this bill moves to committee stage, I’ll be seeking reassurances that the challenges I’ve raised here are truly remnants of the past, as has been celebrated. I’ll be asking about the sections of this bill that look like they undermine the inherent rights of Indigenous nations to create child welfare laws. I’ll be asking questions to ensure the paternalism in the system is actually being removed and our communities are actually free to self-determine.
I’ll be asking about the information this government keeps about our children, the children currently in the system and those who have aged out and have been displaced by the child welfare system, to ensure that this minister is truly upholding the spirit of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.
Over decades, the child welfare system has destroyed trust. The systems have been developed to entrench Crown control through threats and fear. That is why, today, I will not just immediately take the government on their word when they make claims about the changes to the system. It will only be their actions, the implementation of the changes and how they affect our families and communities that will inform my excitement and my gratitude to them. We can have a celebration in the Hall of Honour and on the floor of this chamber. We can amend the laws and regulations. Those are critical steps forward. However, it is only a small part of the work that must be done if this government is truly committed to this effort.
There must be a full apology. If the previous Premier was not able to organize the words, then this new Premier should find them soon. There must be access to information — all the information. There must be compensation for the individuals and families who were torn apart and broken by the system. The provincial government actors need to be at the table in good faith, working with leaders to achieve self-determination in child welfare. However, we must go deeper than that.
As I have outlined over the last — I wrote few, but I realize it’s extended — few minutes, the underlying theme of this chronicle, the venomous and repulsive fairy tale that was spun into the Canadian psyche was purposely to undermine Indigenous people as being good and loving parents, trustworthy and prudent leaders.
The goal of our parliamentary forebears was genocide. The child welfare system, the programs of experimentation, psychological, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, separation and isolation that this bill has been celebrated for finally unwinding…. Well, they were tools that were deliberately created to achieve that goal, but generations of Canadians believe stories they’ve been told about Indigenous people. They’ve inherited their own myths and legends that need to be rewritten and retold.
That work has started. We do not yet know the full impact of Orange Shirt Day or the new Indigenous-focused graduation credits required of all of our children graduating from a British Columbia high school, but we’ve seen light glimmering through the cracks.
A few weeks ago, the students of the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership School and the Stelly’s Secondary Indigenous leadership program coordinated a march and a rally to a park in Brentwood Bay, the community I grew up in.
The place has always been known as Pioneer Park. Hundreds of our youth in our community came together to demonstrate the power of collective action. They were insulted by the name Pioneer Park. They brought a new name. They put it on the park. [SENĆOŦEN was spoken] means “a place to be happy.” The youth in our community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, demanded that Central Saanich council officially change the name.
It’s good instruction for us here as well. We can call this place [SENĆOŦEN was spoken.] Mayor Ryan Windsor and I, along with several Central Saanich councillors, were there to receive the message. And as I said on that stage, the youth had already done the work. They had already put a new name on the park, and now it was up to the council to make it official. Good work has already started. ÍY SĆÁ.
Deprogramming the Canadian subconscious that has been taught to believe so many untrue things about Indigenous people is going to take time. But more importantly, it’s going to take commitment. At the core of my comments here today is to highlight and point out just how entrenched the stories, systems and tools of oppression actually are. Now it is time for the truth-telling. This Crown government must not lose sight of their role and responsibility in that critical work. While we’re going to want and need to pause and celebrate our successes along the way, let’s be careful not to celebrate ÍY SĆÁ until the good work is done.