British Columbia

B.C. Métis to 'reclaim authority' over their children in government care

The agreement with the provincial government will transfer control of child welfare programs back to B.C. Métis by 2021.

Agreement with province transfers back control of child welfare programs

The Lii Michif Otipemisiwak in Kamloops is one of two Delegated Aboriginal Agencies that provide services to Métis children and families in B.C. (Lii Michif Otipemisiwak/Facebook)

B.C.'s Métis community will soon assume authority over its children in government care.

Métis Nation British Columbia (MNBC) and the province signed an agreement on Wednesday acknowledging an eventual transfer in control over the child welfare of Métis children.

The goal of the agreement is to "significantly" reduce the number of Métis children and youth in government care, leading to the eventual legislative transfer of authority over B.C. Métis children to MNBC, according to a news release.

There are currently 520 Métis youth that receive services through B.C.'s Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD).

Two Métis-sensitive child welfare centres run by the MCFD currently operate B.C. — Métis Family Services in Surrey and Lii Michif Otipemisiwa in Kamloops.

"By signing this joint commitment, we assert the right to develop our own laws, our own policies, and our own practices in accordance with our traditions," said MNBC president Clara Morin-Dal Col in the release.

"As we reclaim authority, we will focus on the restoration of our most vulnerable children and families to our kinship networks, to our communities and to our Métis Nation."

Transfer expected in 2021

The transfer of authority is expected in 2021 after the province and MNBC work out the legal details. Once complete, the ministry will be able to refer Métis children in need of care to culturally sensitive programs established by MNBC.

There is no recognized land base for Métis in B.C., and they do not have the same funding relationship with the federal government as First Nations communities, according to the release.

Metis teen Alex Gervais died after he jumped from the open window of a hotel in Abbotsford while in government care. (Dylan Pelley/Facebook)

High profile tragedies

The province has been criticized in past years for how Indigenous youth have been handled in government care following several high-profile incidents.

In September 2015, Métis teen Alex Gervais died after jumping out of a hotel window in Abbotsford. A subsequent report found the 18-year-old had been placed in 17 homes under the watch of 23 different social workers and caregivers from the time he entered provincial care to the time he died.

A 2017 report from B.C.'s  representative for children and youth found Indigenous children are 17 times more likely to be separated from their parents than a non-Indigenous child.

B.C.Children's Minister Katrine Conroy says the province has made it a priority to work with Indigenous communities to ensure youth are not unfairly separated from their communities.

"We are hearing people want to ensure they have the right to raise their children, to take care of their children and to ensure they learn the culture and the traditions that they should," she told CBC's On the Coast.

'It's about time'

Indigenous child and family care workers applauded the Métis agreement, but some say its long overdue.

"It's about time," said Joy Dockrey, co-ordinator for the STAR Elders — a group of Indigenous elders working to prevent Indigenous children from being separated from their families.

More than a decade ago, Dockrey was part of a planning committee of Indigenous elders and community leaders who worked with the Province to outline ways communities could take back control of Indigenous children in care.

Despite years of work, she says nothing came of her group's policy recommendations.

"The healing process of allowing us to take control back is long overdue," she said. "We've always been ready."

The province says it is working toward similar agreements with three other First Nations.

With files from CBC's On the Coast