British Columbia

New legislation gives B.C. Indigenous communities control of their own child welfare system

B.C. becomes the first jurisdiction in Canada to recognize the inherent right of Indigenous communities to legally create and control their own child and family services.

Officials are hopeful the changes will help address the epidemic of Indigenous children and youth in care

A display marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Sept. 30, 2021. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

B.C. has become the first jurisdiction in Canada to recognize the inherent right of Indigenous communities to legally create and control their own child and family services, with an eye to ending the epidemic of Indigenous children and youth in care. 

The passing of the Indigenous Self-Government in Child and Family Services Amendment Act will enable the province and Indigenous Peoples to "collaborate and ensure Indigenous Peoples can govern and provide services based on their own child and family laws," according to a statement from the government. 

When the amendments were first announced, Cowichan Tribes Coun. Stephanie Atleo said they represented a significant step toward reconciliation.

"... for the last 150 years, the laws and policies regarding Indigenous children and child welfare have had a severe impact on Indigenous families, including our Cowichan families," Atleo said.

"Cowichan Tribes is in the best position to protect our children through stabilizing and protecting families."

The act creates a new Indigenous child welfare director within the Ministry of Children and Family Development that the government says will "provide advice and guidance in relation to child-welfare services and crucial decisions related to Indigenous children and families in B.C., and harmonize Indigenous and provincial laws ..."

The province says four Indigenous governing bodies, including the Cowichan Tribes, have already begun the process of exercising their jurisdiction.

For a long time, First Nations have compared the over-representation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system to the residential school system or Sixties Scoop, which served to remove Indigenous children from their families, communities and culture.

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