They can and they will; that was the call out to the BC Government by the Okanagan Nation Alliance in West Kelowna, on Monday afternoon.
Elders, children and supporters of the Syilx First Nation marched toward MLA and Premier Christy Clark's office to promote awareness of the increasing number of aboriginal children in care and what they believe is the lack of appropriate services by the Ministry of Children and Families (MCFD).
Jennifer Houde, ONA Child and Family lead and organizer of the protest says over 50 per cent of children who are in care in the province are Aboriginal and Aboriginal children only make up 8 per cent BC's young people.
"In Canada there are more aboriginal children in care that were ever taken at the height of residential school… in some areas in the province up to 85 to 90 per cent of children in care are Aboriginal."
Numbers that don't sit right with the Nation Alliance, which is why they have banned together with other First Nations and Metis in the province to crete pubic awareness and find out how services could be better employed by Aboriginal Leadership instead of through the MCFD.
"We have developed a plan and we have presented that plan to the Ministry, we presented that plan to Aboriginal Affairs Northern Development, and they said no. They said no 'we will not fund that'," says Houde.
According to the ONA the MCFD ended funding for 18 community-based projects in December. These projects were considered successful by the ONA and collectively known as Indigenous Approaches.
The Nation Alliance has several programs they would like to implement, programs that are already in affect by the Ministry and could be built upon. Houde says it would cost about $500,000 a year, per program to implement.
Houde claims the current process that removes children from their homes and their communities results in a devastating outcome for Aboriginal youth.
"Some children really should not be with their family at this point, but we are saying they can be with extended family they can remain in our community," she explains. "These children need help and intervention, but the majority of this is about poverty, it is about systemic inequalities, it is about access to housing, accesses to unemployment, access to education and training."
Laurie Wilson agrees, she is an independent contractor for the ONA Wellness department whose been researching what services would be needed if children were to be placed under the care of Aborginal Leadership instead of the provinces.
"There are people who say 'they really can't take care of their children, we have to take them.' But they don't," she explains. "We have proven that, the Okanagan Nation has proven that by having a process that works, and returns children to their home or family and strengthens families, that works with prevention and works in a holistic way."
MLA and Premier Christy Clark was not at her West Kelowna riding office as she was in Victoria, although the Ministry of Children and Family Development did issue a statement.
MCFD Staff in the region meet regularly with the Okanagan Nation Alliance, and in fact, will be meeting with them again later this week. We know that over the past decade the number of Aboriginal children in care has remained relatively stable. However, we know we can always do better.
Aboriginal funding will now be dependent on business plans that clearly outline how potential service providers will:
- Work to keep children from coming into care
- Help children who are in care return to their families and communities
- And strengthen permanency plans for children in longer-term care.
This approach aligns with our vision of Aboriginal children and youth living in strong, healthy families and sustainable communities where they are connected to their cultures and traditions.
The Nation Alliance says they will continue to protest and write to the Premier until they can secure a meeting with her.