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PHOTOS: B.C. First Nation Sts’ailes moves to fund its own child welfare

Despite lack of federal support, Sts’ailes moves forward with their own child laws

At the start of the Family Day weekend, the Sts’ailes First Nation took a stand for their most precious resource – their children.

On Friday (Feb. 16), the Sts’ailes community and their guests gathered at the Charlie Longhouse to celebrate and assert the nation’s jurisdiction over child and family services despite the lack of support from Canada’s government.

Today, after more than a century of historic disruption, Sts’ailes is asserting its unbroken and inherent right to care for our children and families according to our own laws and cultural practices,” Sts’ailes Chief Ralph Leon (Sah-ahkw) stated on Friday. “Our children are our most precious resource, and by assuming responsibility for their care, we are ensuring that they grow up with the love, support and connection to their culture that they deserve.”

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After three years of negotiation, the ceremony was initially intended to be a ceremonial signing of a coordination agreement with the Sts’ailes nation and the federal and provincial governments. However, the month before this ceremony, the federal government reneged on the commitment to meet their deadlines for finalizing the agreement.

Sts’ailes Grand Chief Chasta Willie Charlie (Cha’qua’wet) – the chief negotiator for the community – said the community is “extremely disappointed” in the government’s decision.

“This leaves Sts’ailes drastically underfunded and forces us to self-fund our child and family services without federal government support,” Charlie stated.

Last April, the Sts’ailes officials brought into force Snowoyelh te Emi:melh te Sts’ailes, or “Sts’ailes Child and Family Services Law,” which covered Sts’ailes children living on reserve. Following Friday’s ceremony, the Sts’ailes law extends coverage to all Sts’ailes children across the province, effective April 1.

Jenny Lloyd, executive director of Indigenous Agreements with the Ministry of Child and Family Development said the province is fully committed to supporting Sts’ailes in their efforts.

RELATED: ‘This beautiful work’: Sts’ailes First Nation welcomes 29 baskets home

“I liked that we were challenged, especially by the youth council, to work harder and to put everything we’ve got into this,” she said. “And that’s the commitment of MCFD.”

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak delivered a video address congratulating the Sts’ailes community.

“Although we’ve never given up jurisdiction over our children, other colonial systems have always tried to suppress our people and tried to suppress our ways of keeping our families together,” Nepinak said. “All levels of government have to work with First Nations people if they’re going to get this right. I look forward to all of you being a driving force and showing the rest of the country how to do child welfare laws, how to bring your children home, how to put broken families back together again.”

Representatives from the Seabird Island and Sq’éwlets First Nations were also present at the ceremony.

Adam Louis

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