Sto:lo group withdraws from child welfare council

Sto:lo Tribal Council reps are in early talks to bring back former provincial judge Steven Point to preside over family court cases

Sto:lo Tribal Council, which represents eight Sto:lo bands, is withdrawing from a provincial agency created specifically to protect the welfare of aboriginal children.

Sto:lo Nation, which represents 11 Sto:lo bands, has not yet taken a position on the matter.

The formal STC decision to withdraw came just after the release of a blistering report by child welfare advocate Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, which showed not a single child was aided by the $66 million spent on the BC First Nations Child and Family Wellness Council over the 12 years.

“We were already considering withdrawing our support before the report came out,” Grand Chief Doug Kelly, told the Progress. “The hard-hitting report provoked a lot of reaction, as we are all parents or grandparents with a great abiding love and respect for our children and families.”

STC vice president Tyrone McNeil will resign his seat on the Wellness Council.

“What we decided is that no one else can do our work for us. It’s all up to us,” Chief Kelly said, adding that he’s not pointing any fingers in a blame game. Federal and provincial officials also have a role to play in the council’s failings.

They are now in the early stages of discussions about bringing back former provincial court judge Steven Point to the task of presiding over family law court. As a former Soowahlie chief, Sto:lo Yewel Siyam and B.C. Lieutenant-Governor, Point also brings a deep understanding of Sto:lo culture, ceremonies and the way our families work, said Kelly.

The goal of bringing former judge Point back to the bench might take some time to negotiate, even though they’ve had some positive early reaction from Victoria.

“He’s well-respected in our communities, and he’s very keen,” he added. “We would rather have family-like meetings where Steven would be able to hear from all parties, and to work with the family to identify the problem, and determine the risks to the safety of that child.”

Turpel-Lafond’s report showed how the Wellness Council was a “public policy fiasco,” citing lack of vision, goals or measurable outcomes.

Sto:lo Nation president Joe Hall said they intend to provide a response to the report after Chief Maureen Chapman, who sits on the Wellness Council, presents her full report for Sto:lo Nation members.

“Obviously we have some grave concerns. We’re not going to react to the report. We’ll respond after we’ve had a full discussion on the matter.”

The report by Turpel-Lafond, ‘When Talk Trumped Service: A Decade of Lost Opportunity for Children and Youth in B.C.’ was released as a PDF document