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Cowichan Tribes speaks out after ‘historic’ child and family services vote

Cowichan Tribes has spoken out after the successful vote to gain jurisdiction over their child and family services. Tribes’ members voted 83 per cent in favour of regaining jurisdiction of their child and family services on Friday.

“Quw’utsun Mustimuhw (Cowichan People) have overwhelmingly voted in support of our Law and our inherent right to govern our children and families guided by our snuw’uy’ulh, our cultural teachings, and with respect for our family customs,” says Hwitsum.

Hwitsum says generations of their children experienced trauma when they were not in control of those services.

“Generations of our children have experienced the trauma of removal from their families and communities and loss of language and culture through residential schools, the 60’s Scoop, and the colonial child welfare system,” she says. “This historic vote sets our smun’eem (children) and future generations on a new path, one that ensures they are surrounded by their families, their Quw’utsun culture, tl’l’tul tst (love), and supports.”

The new law is said to have a holistic approach to family well-being and proactive support to prevent situations requiring late-stage intervention.

“The passing of our Law empowers us to fully implement our Cowichan ways of caring for our children and families,” says Addie Price, Acting Director of Lalum’utul’ Smun’eem, Child and Family Services.

Lalum’utul’ Smun’eem has held delegated authority over child and family wellness since 1996, but they were still required to follow provincial legislation. This new jurisdictional vote eliminates provincial regulations and puts the Cowichan people squarely in control of those services.

The next steps for this process will be the creation of an authority and a board of directors to oversee the operation says treaty negotiator and legal counsel Robert Morales.

“The Board will appoint a CEO for the management of the Authority and Cowichan Tribes implementation of our Law,” says Morales. “Cowichan Tribes Council will have responsibilities to support the Authority and make regulations and ensure it is functioning properly, but will not be involved in day-to-day operations or case decisions.”

Cowichan Tribes says that staffing levels are expected to grow to nearly double that of the current Lalum’utul’ Smun’eem and that many of the new staff will concentrate on prevention and family support services.

Cowichan Tribes was among the first 11 First Nations to enter into this process, allowed under the passage of Bill C-92 in October 2020. It’s the second vote that they’ve undertaken this year to customize their legal system to fit their needs, following the successful custom election code vote in September.

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