The delivery of child and family services grounded in Indigenous culture and community was celebrated Friday in British Columbia's north Okanagan with the signing of the province's first care co-ordination services agreement.
Indigenous children thrive when they can stay with their families and communities and are surrounded by their culture and language, federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said in an interview after the ceremony.
The agreement between the federal, B.C. and Secwepemc Nation governments provides the legal framework and funding for the co-ordinated care services, she said.
"This is an exciting time in the history of our country and the history of the First Nations that are doing this work," said Hajdu.
The minister said governments over the next 10 years will transfer $136.2 million to the Enderby-area Splatsin First Nation to support and continue their long-standing dedication and work on family and child services.
"This community now has the legal co-ordination of care agreement between B.C., the federal government and the community itself to reassert the rights of Splatsin people to have self-determination over the care of their children and families," Hajdu said.
The agreement, which is the first of its kind in B.C. and the fifth in Canada, addresses the delivery of emergency services, mechanisms for First Nations children to exercise their rights and sustainable and consistent needs-based funding, she said.
"This is a community that has actually by and large been doing this but with a lot of interference from colonial systems that have made it difficult for Splatsin to keep kids connected to their communities," Hajdu said.
Splatsin Chief Doug Thomas said in a statement that the agreement continues the responsibility of every nation member to care for children past, present and into the future.
"This high level of responsibility for our children falls not just on the shoulders of leadership, but every Splatsin community member," he said. "It takes a community to raise a child and at Splatsin we do our best to live by those words."
Hajdu said the agreement will ensure Splatsin children stay in the communities and remain connected with their culture.
It specifies "how things should unfold to support families to stay well and also to support families that are struggling," she said.
Mitzi Dean, B.C.'s minister of children and family development, said in a statement the Splatsin have been working for decades to ensure their children and families remain connected to their culture and communities despite the constraints of the child welfare system.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press