Gitxsan community members turn away social workers seeking to put child into foster care
A line of band councillors, hereditary chiefs and community members standing together near Gitanmaax, refusing to let the social workers take away a six-year-old Gitanmaax band member. (Photo source: Git'luuhl'um'hetxwit Media).
PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. -- On Saturday night, social workers arrived at the Gitxsan community of Gitanmaax near Hazelton to take one of its young band members – a six-year-old girl – to a foster home.
But the community wouldn't let that happen, and they turned the social workers away.
It was a sight to behold: a line of band councillors, hereditary chiefs, and community members standing together, refusing to let the social workers take her away.
Both the Gitanmaax Band and the Git'luuhl'um'hetxwit – a Gitxsan house group that the child belongs to – delivered notices to the social workers, saying she would be staying in Gitxsan Territory.
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and Bill C-92, as identified by the government of Canada, has identified the historical practice of removing children from their families resulted in children suffering physical and mental abuse,” said Gitanmaax Band Councillor Tracey Woods while addressing the social workers.
Git'luuhl'um'hetxwit spokesperson Kolin Sutherland-Wilson was also present at the scene
“You are facing two entities that care for the well being of this young person,” he told the social workers.
“And we will do everything in our power to keep her safe, to look after her, to nurture her with her culture [and] her language in the place where she belongs.”
In an interview with CFTK, Sutherland-Wilson said the events on Saturday follow a long history of Gitxsan people asserting jurisdiction over child welfare.
“We're saying we do not want to let any more of our children go, especially given Canada's violent history of removing our children since the days of the residential schools,” he said.
He says meetings will soon be taking place with the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) to discuss the situation.
“Ultimately, our family couldn't bear to lose one of our children or even to risk it, because our children are our future, and the entire reason that we fight to protect the land, that we have been doing all these other things to improve our community over the years – because it's our children that will inherit it.”
Moving forward, Sutherland Wilson says the house group wants to establish jurisdiction over its own children.
"We're drawing the line on a long legacy of child removal."
In a statement, MCFD said it’s unable to comment on matters involving specific children, youth and families, but it says it understands the importance of keeping children connected to their families and Indigenous communities.
“To that end, we are committed to working with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities to support their ongoing involvement in discussions and planning for the well-being of children who come into contact with the child welfare system,” it said.
“In line with provincial and federal legislation, our approach for all dealings with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples acknowledges the specific interests, priorities and concerns of each, while respecting and acknowledging that the rights, interests, and circumstances may differ.”