Four Secwe̓pemc communities met in 100 Mile House last week to discuss treaty negotiations as well as how to regain jurisdiction over their children.
The conference, dubbed the 2022 NStQ’s Citizen’s Assembly, was hosted by the Tsq’escenemc (Canim Lake Band) at the South Cariboo Rec Centre and included the T’exelc from Williams Lake, Stswecem’c Xgat’tem from Canoe Creek and Dog Creek and the Xatsull from Soda Creek.
More than 275 representatives from the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council attended the event, which was held for the first time in two years.
“It’s a gathering of our citizens to come together and learn where we’re at in the treaty process but also to touch base with the leadership,” Tsq’escenemc chief Helen Henderson said. “100 Mile House is known as Cpelmétkwe, or underground springs, and we always feel at home here and empowered when we have our feet on our territory. It feels great to welcome our other three sister communities and be able to gather, hug and share stories together.”
Henderson said one of the major focuses of the conference was how First Nations can regain control over their families on a community level, which has long fallen under the jurisdiction of the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development. The move follows the discovery of 215 gravesites at the Kamloops Indian Residential School and 94 possible burial sites at the St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake.
“(Jurdistriction will allow us) to reconnect to one another and restore our traditional family systems to what they once were before contact,” Henderson said. “A lot of harm has been done through residential schools, through the ‘60s scoop and through the Millennial scoop. All of these traumas have impacted our ability to parent but as we revive our culture, beliefs and laws we’re rising up and taking back control.”
Henderson said she anticipates that jurisdiction will be reclaimed through the ongoing treaty negotiations or through Bill C-92. The federal bill, passed in 2019, recognizes that a one size fits all approach does not work for Indigenous children and communities. Instead, Bill C-92 empowers bands to develop their own childcare policies and systems that are in the best interest of children and ensure cultural continuity.
Over the next two years, Henderson said local bands intend to develop their own childcare policies to prepare for a transition to full jurisdiction.
Eric Sannes, communications manager for the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council, said a disproportionate number of Indigenous youth are in foster care. According to Canada’s 2016 Census, 52.2 per cent of all children in care are Indigenous, despite making up only 7.7 percent of the population.
“It’s a complicated matter for sure but it’s really up to each nation how their culture handles it. Each nation is making those decisions on how they will care for children and families,” Sannes said. “Mental health, intergenerational trauma and addiction all come into play.”
Catriona Henderson, Henderson’s niece, experienced foster care firsthand after her mother died when she was 10. The ministry had housed her both on and off the reserve in a process that left her feeling disposable. Although Henderson became her legal guardian, Catriona said being put into that system still left its mark.
“I felt, when I was taken away, my identity was taken from me,” she said. “I see nowadays that there are nations who stop the government physically from taking their kids and it’s really inspiring.”
The assembly included a panel of elders and youth and several keynote speakers including Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Caring Society of Canada, Chief Cadmus DeLorme, of the Cowessess First Nation, Mary Teegee, president of the BC Aboriginal Child Care Society, and country/blues singer Crystal Shawanda.
The four bands meet for a citizen’s assembly every year. Sannes said the event is traditionally held in Williams Lake but will likely be done on a rotating basis in each community going forward.