By Lloyd Dolha
The Carrier-Sekani Family Services has announced that it is in the final negotiations with the region’s Ministry of Childen and Family Development for exclusive jurisdiction over a significant portion of the region’s aboriginal children in care.
“We have to look at the broader scope [for aboriginal children] of being part of a nation to empower our families and communities to take care of their children,” said Mary Teegee, director of Carrier-Sekani Family Services (CSFS).
Teegee said her organization is close to the final stages of negotiations for that exclusive jurisdiction with the ministry that have been ongoing for the past two years.
Teegee said the CSFS wants to move away from the ministry’s long-standing practice of intervention after-the-fact to a more pro-active approach utilizing the cultural strengths of the Carrier-Sekani clan system to help rebuild northern aboriginal families shaken in the aftermath of the residential school experience.
“We’re saying we have to look outside of the box [of ministerial practice] to a more prevention-based approach in the best interests of the child,” she said.
The announcement comes on the heels of the coroner’s jury recommendations from the two-week inquest into the death of three-year old Savannah Hall.
Savannah Hall was found unconscious in her foster-care home in Prince George on January 24, 2001. When she was taken to hospital by her foster parents, she was in a coma with massive brain-swelling, hypothermia and multiple bruises. She died tow days later in B.C. Children’s hospital.
The coroner’s inquest found that Savannah Hall died of suffocation while in care, which the five-member jury concluded was a homicide.
At a press conference in Prince George on November 5th, CSFS executive director Warner Adam said the jury’s recommendations of the inquest demonstrates the entire provincial child protection system requires a major overhaul.
“The child protection system is riddled with holes that too often places children in danger,” Adam told reporters.
Adam said the CSFS will work with the ministry to ensure that the 26 recommendations from the jury are fully implemented. Seventeen of the 26 recommendations were specifically directed at the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Some of those recommendations included:
Teegee said of the 1,019 children in care in northern B.C., 772 of 75.8 per cent are of aboriginal decent.
Adam said that greater efforts should be made to ensure that aboriginal children taken into care are placed with aboriginal families.
Both Adam and Teegee called for additional resources to ensure that northern aboriginal children are immersed in the cultural strengths of the Carrier-Sekani clan system.
The Lake Babine Nation, Savannah’s home community, has put forward a proposal to the ministry for a clan house, which would allow the aboriginal community to open family group homes based on the clan structure. This would allow a troubled young mother and her child to be brought into care together in supportive surroundings.
Nevertheless, the recommendations of the Savannah Hall inquiry will aid in the further devolution of complete jurisdiction over aboriginal children in care to the province’s 23 aboriginal family services organization.
“We’re going to implement those recommendations as soon as possible and ensure that we have adequate resources to go beyond those recommendations,” said Teegee.
Teegee stressed that the Hall inquiry should not reflect negatively on all foster parents.
“We have wonderful, strong foster parents and we support our foster parents,” she said.
The First Nations Leadership Summit, comprised of the political executives of the First Nations Summit, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the BC Assembly of First Nations, urged the government to move swiftly to address the serious systemic gaps within the ministry identified in the coroner’s report which continue to put First Nations children at risk.
“We hope the coroner’s inquest will finally provide closure to the family of Savannah Hall by providing them with answers that they Have been seeking for six years, “ said Phillip Stewart, Grand Chief of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “However, the findings contained within the coroner’s inquest are clearly indicative that massive funding cutbacks of the past have jeopardized and compromised the safety and well-being of aboriginal children in care.”