Steps are being taken to reclaim Sto:lo jurisdiction for children and families by reprising ancestral roles.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly, president of Sto:lo Tribal Council, said Sto:lo chiefs and leaders recently formed a working group, Sto:lo Jurisdiction for Children and Families, to see if changes can be made.
Something has to give in the wake of vastly over-represented numbers of Indigenous children in care compared to non-Indigenous kids — a long-standing irritant.
“The current model does not work,” said Kelly.
He’s talking about provincial control for child apprehension by social workers under the aegis of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
The ministry’s narrow focus on “safety” of the child puts them in a vacuum, he argued.
“Indigenous families take issue with that approach. We want to keep our children safe and keep the families together. The current model does not offer that.”
It needs to be reduced down to “zero” kids in care, Kelly said, by reprising ancestral roles in child protection once played by the community members like the matriarchs and the warriors.
“We need to return to a model that sustained our families for generation upon generation,” said Grand Chief Kelly.
He also recalled that the creation of the Sto:lo Tribal Council in 2004 was in part driven by a rift over the approach to child welfare, and that many are still unhappy with a lack of any response by government 14 years later.
As a 58-year-old man, the grand chief said he distinctly remembers his aunts and uncles taking in children into their homes.
“As a child, I did not understand why children joined our family – they just did.
“As an adult, I learned that the parents passed from illness or accidents. The children needed a home and the Grandmothers and Aunties got together.”
He said this was not accomplished with the help of provincial reps, or any delegated agencies.
That’s the challenge with the way it works today, and Chief Kelly, adding that social workers should not have decision-making authority.
“This responsibility rests with the Grandmothers and Aunties. Social workers when they receive reports about children at-risk, ought to call the Matriarchs together. The Matriarchs should be informed about the concerns. After talking the concerns through, the Matriarchs will know what to do.”
Local leaders are closely watching the work of Chief Wayne Christian with the Shuswap Nation, and the Upper Nicola Band in preparing a “Grandmothers’ Declaration.”
The working group met on Sept. 28, with Sto:lo leaders in attendance from up and down the Fraser Valley and emerged with a plan to ask the Grand Chiefs’ Council to plan a ceremony later this fall which reaffirms those ancestral roles.
“We decided to invite the Matriarchs to work with us on preparing a declaration for our Matriarchs. We want our leadership to support this declaration and we will stand up this Declaration at the Ceremony.
“We want to reclaim the role of Matriarchs in taking care of our children and families.”