British Columbia

'Heartbreak and outrage': Sask. First Nation leaders in B.C. to discuss taking over child welfare

In the wake of the death of Noelle O'Soup, the Key First Nation says it chose Vancouver as a location symbolic of the suffering of Indigenous youth in care for the consultation process to begin on child welfare reforms.

Vancouver chosen as location symbolic of suffering of Indigenous youth in care after death of Noelle O'Soup

A man in an Indigenous headdress shakes hands with another man in a suit under a conference room chandelier.
Leaders from Key First Nation travelled to Vancouver to speak with B.C. Premier David Eby and other provincial leaders about B.C.'s child welfare system. (Canadian Press)

Solomon Reece spent a decade in Vancouver before being elected as a councillor to the Key First Nation in Saskatchewan last year.

While he remained connected to his First Nation, Reece was raised on a Gulf Island off the West Coast and said going from B.C. to his new position took some adjustment.

"I really acknowledge my privilege in terms of growing up in an urban centre and having access to good quality health care, access to clean water, the quality of the education,'' Reece said.

"It's been a very eye-opening and humbling experience for me as a councillor, coming from this very, frankly, urbanized and very affluent city to now going to what are the front lines of colonization.''

Reece is one of many members of the Key nation who was raised off-reserve but remained with his family.

Other children of the nation have been taken from their families and placed in government care, including Noelle O'Soup, who, at 13, disappeared from a B.C. group home only to be found dead a year later.

In the wake of her death, the Key First Nation chose Vancouver as a location symbolic of the suffering of Indigenous youth in care for the consultation process to begin on child welfare reforms.

Noelle O'Soup poses with a neutral expression for the camera. She appears to be at a picnic in a park.
Noelle O'Soup, an Indigenous girl from the Key First Nation, was reported missing and later found dead on May 1, 2022 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Submitted by Cody Munch)

Indigenous children in government care across the country end up suffering in provincial welfare systems, cut off from their families, communities and culture, Reece said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"And I might also say that the government worked very hard to eliminate our culture. Now, it needs to work even harder to help us to restore it,'' Reece said.

First Nations children taken from their families

Chief Clinton Key said a big step in mending their community is reforming a system that sees many First Nations children taken from their families.

The federal government changed the law in 2020, allowing Indigenous communities to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services, while Ottawa established national minimum standards.

Reece said the First Nation is hopeful that provincial governments in B.C. and elsewhere will work "proactively'' to draft new laws addressing their litany of concerns.

The Key First Nation, he said, is particularly focused on self-governance legislation in B.C. that doesn't address the needs of "extraprovincial'' First Nations that have members spread across the country.

Reece said collaboration between First Nations and provincial governments is paramount to reforming a system that has seen many Indigenous children die in care while leaving families and their communities with "no answers.''

Call to address systemic failures in child welfare

Key told the news conference his nation is proud to take its first steps to control its own child and welfare services.

"We plan to develop a new law that upholds the ancient human right to care for and raise our children to be reflections of who we are, of our ancestors and our teachings.''

It comes after the Key First Nation sent a letter to Premier David Eby on Monday expressing "heartbreak and outrage'' at the loss of O'Soup while she was in B.C.'s child welfare system.

The letter outlined the nation's grave concerns about the B.C. government's inaction on the teen's disappearance and death and calls on the government to address systemic failures that compromised the girl's safety and her family's access to information.

"Our community is devastated by the tragic death of Noelle and outraged at the inaction of police and the [Ministry of Children and Family Development] inadequately investigating her death and bringing closure to her case,'' Key told the news conference.

"Her family deserves closure.''

The girl's body was found inside a Downtown Eastside rooming house, along with the body of a woman, on May 1, 2022. While a tenant of the room had been found dead 2½ months earlier in February, police officers initially missed the remains of O'Soup and the woman.

An Indigenous man in a headdress speaks at a news conference.
Chief Clinton Key, of the Key First Nation, speaks at a news conference in Vancouver about the need to reform child welfare legislation. (Canadian Press)

'Torn apart by a system'

The letter to Eby said the disparity between outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children in government care needs to be identified and changed.

Indigenous children are disproportionately over-represented in B.C.'s child and family services system, comprising less than 10 per cent of the child population yet representing 68 per cent of the children in care.

"Too many of our families have been torn apart by a system that does not meet their best interests,'' Key said.

"We believe that there is another way.''

Key said the First Nation can't fix the system alone, and co-operation with provincial governments is paramount to moving forward with a new self-governing system that doesn't see Indigenous kids put into non-Indigenous care.

For Reece, child welfare systems in Canada reflect the "intergenerational impacts'' of the country's colonial past.

He said he's the first in three generations of his family to be raised by his own parents; his mother was taken in the '60s Scoop, while his father was a residential school survivor.

"It's not lost on me just again, the privilege that I've enjoyed in terms of having a loving, cultural home and two parents who did their work, their emotional work, to provide the best parenting to me possible,'' he said.

"For our community members, there's a lot of need, a lot of need for healing, a lot of need for resources, and access to a better life, and that starts with some policy, but also tangible reforms."


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when police discovered the body of the tenant and, later, the remains of Noelle O'Soup and the woman.
    Mar 23, 2023 7:18 AM PT