The Stó:lo Grand Chiefs Council will honour their family matriarchs on Sunday, Jan. 20 with a special ceremony at Matsqui First Nation.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly said the gathering is part of the broader effort to reclaim jurisdiction for child welfare services from government, and shift it back to the matriarchs.
It’s an attempt to breathe new life into the ancestral role of the matriarch under Stó:lo law.
In the Stó:lo world view, the concept of ‘matriarch’ refers to the eldest woman or the woman recognized by family as their matriarch, who carries the thread of family history and culture, as well as ceremonial and naming rights of her family.
“We’ve been meeting monthly since march of last year,” Kelly said about the working group that formed out of the chiefs’ council.
“We’ve been discussing how do we do this, and what began to emerge was an understanding it was not all that long ago that our matriarchs were the ones who made all the decisions about children and family.”
Kelly said he distinctly remembers his aunties doing that crucial work in the community, and that was in his lifetime.
The problem is that the current system is adversarial, the grand chief said, and not as focused on keeping families together, as well as keeping kids safe, as it needs to be.
A meeting was held at Cheam First Nation in October to discuss the matriarchs’ role in the context of child and family services. There they signed a document called the Matriarchs’ Declaration, which read:
“Matriarchs of the Stó:lo hereby take jurisdiction over Stó:lo Children according to our Stó:lo customary law.”
Two statements followed: “Stó:lo Children have the right to live in a violence-free home,” and “Stó:lo Children have the right to be protected from abuse, neglect and illness.”
Then shortly after the meeting at Cheam, the federal government formally signalled its readiness to go this route. With a vow there will be “no more scooping children” and “no more ripping apart families,” Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced on Nov. 30 the federal government was ready to hand over jurisdictional control of child welfare services to Indigenous governments.
The timing was no accident, Kelly said.
Chief and council in each Stó:lo community will be asked to propose the names of matriarchs who could do this work. At the gathering they will recognize and bless the grandmothers and aunties.
“It is time to begin using our traditional family laws and for our matriarchs to reclaim their role in taking care of their grandchildren,” according to the Honouring our Matriarchs event poster.
RSVP for the Jan. 20 ‘Honouring Our Matriarchs’ ceremony starting at noon at Matsqui First Nation by calling Lori Kelly at 604-796-0627 local 240 or email Lori.Kelly@stolotribalcouncil.ca