A new agreement gives First Nations a voice, says one local chief.
“It’s a turning point, it’s a milestone for us because we’ve never been down this path before. So this little baby step is a big one for all of us (First Nations and the province) but it’s an exciting one,” said Pauquachin Chief Bruce Underwood.
Underwood signed the agreement between the province and nine aboriginal communities on southern Vancouver Island to share authority for child and family services, alongside Children and Family Development Minister Mary McNeil, Premier Christy Clark and eight other community leaders. The agreement signed Thursday at the legislature covers Pauquachin, Esquimalt, Tsartlip, Tseycum, T’Sou-ke, Beecher Bay, Tsawout, Songhees and Pacheedaht First Nations, as well as urban aboriginal people through the Victoria Native Friendship Centre.
Underwood said the agreement sets up a “government-to-government” relationship to create a culturally based service system for the care and protection of aboriginal children.
“Right now a child is taken away from us, or out of our home,” Underwood said. “Now we’re looking at a holistic approach. How do we surround the child with love and care? The parents need to be a part of that love and care. So instead of apprehending a child, we’re looking at ways of taking a look at the whole family.”
Underwood said it gives them a voice and solidifies a process started in 2008 with the South Island Wellness Society, chaired by Underwood and representing all the communities.
“We’re a little bit of a ways from implementing anything. … It gives us something to strive for,” Underwood said. “It’s like the old auntie approach. We all become the old auntie and the old uncle.”
Moving forward, the nine nations will look at community resources required from addiction issues, to anger management or building budgeting skills.
“Instead of apprehending a child, how do we apprehend the family? Let’s not devastate anybody, especially the child we’re looking to support,” Underwood said. “We have a voice. We have grandmas, we have grandpas that have a say in our process.”