Cowichan Tribes is asking its 5,000 members to vote on a law to reclaim jurisdiction over their children and family services.
If the vote passes with a majority, some of the major differences would include an increased area of service spanning more than 32,000-square-kilometers, almost double the amount of staff, and the average case load per social worker would go down from 20 cases to 10.
Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum is optimistic that the law will be pass by its member so the nation can move towards full control of its future.
“Today, we are taking a step to take back jurisdiction with respect to our children. So we are creating law to displace the laws of the Crown in the care and the direction for how we care for our children and families,” said Hwitsum.
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In October 2020, following the passage of Bill C-92, An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis Children, youth and families, Cowichan Tribes notified the federal and provincial governments of its intent to develop its own law.
What followed was three years of intense community engagement and collaboration with Elders and citizens to create the Snuw’uy’ulhtst tu Quw’utsun Mustimuhw u’ tu Shhw’a’luqwa’a’ i’ Smun’eem (Laws of the Cowichan People for Families and Children).
Cowichan Tribes member Jessica George knows how difficult it is to have children taken away by the Ministry of Children and Families instead of keeping Indigenous children within the community.
“Nine years without our kids. Then we started going through the process of going through anger management, parenting classes and grief and loss programs,” said George.
George has four daughters. Three of them were taken away, and when she had her fourth daughter, she was taken away from five hours after giving birth. It is this wound that many Indigenous people have faced, according to Hwitsum.
“The thing the Crown was doing was removing kids at birth. They wouldn’t even give the family a chance. They would walk into a hospital and take out a newborn out of the arms of a mother. ‘We don’t think you are good enough so we are taking your child,'” exclaimed Hwitsum.
Online voting for members is available from November 10th – 24th and the final day of in-person voting is on November 24h. For more information on the details of the law click here.