Huu-ay-aht First Nations has identified “bringing our children home” as a priority for the Nation.
Work has begun on an important project to keep Huu-ay-aht children safe, happy, healthy, and connected with their families and culture.
Huu-ay-aht staff within the Community Services Department have been working hard to help support Huu-ay-aht children and families and have already shown leadership in building continuity and cultural connections for Huu-ay-aht children who are taken into care. But Huu-ay-aht government is also taking a careful and detailed look at what can and should be done under our Treaty powers to provide stronger support to our families and children who need it most.
An independent four-member Panel has been appointed by Huu-ay-aht Executive Council to explore and recommend changes and improvements that can be made under our Treaty to child and family services for Huu-ay-aht families.
In early January 2017, the Panel issued a public invitation to parents, grandparents, children, youth, foster parents, and caregivers who have experience around child protection, kinship caring, fostering, and adoption.
These groups of people were asked to come to the first of the community engagement sessions to be held by the Panel, which took place in Port Alberni. The Panel asked people to come and share their experiences and ideas for “Made-in-Huu-ay-aht” solutions to support Huu-ay-aht children and their families. Huu-ay-aht staff supported the invitation by conducting a phone bee to reach as many citizens as possible, to encourage people to come to give their voices to this project.
One session has been held in Port Alberni already, and today they are at the Skwachays Lodge at 2931 Pender St. in Vancouver. They invite anyone from the Lower Mainland to attend.
Over two days at the Cedar Woods Lodge in Port Alberni on January 15 and 16, 2017, Huu-ay-aht community members came together and spoke bravely about their stories and experiences. Councillor Sheila Charles explained the origin of the project, and ƛiišin and Wišqii opened the community circle. As Wišqii said, “A circle has no sides.”
Into the circle flowed the voices of parents who have seen their children taken into care, children who have been taken into care, adults who recalled their experiences at residential school and of being taken from their homes and families, as well as the voices of grandparents, great grandparents, and foster parents who have cared for Huu-ay-aht children when their parents have been unable to. People also spoke in private with Panel members, to allow for deeper and broader sharing of their experiences and of their ideas to strengthen support for Huu-ay-aht children and families.
Throughout the two days, cultural support workers from the Nuu-chah-nulth Quuwasa Society listened and stood by, giving support to people as they needed it, and providing song, ceremony, and guidance.
The Panel was very grateful for the open spirit all participants brought to this deeply difficult subject. The Huu-ay-aht solution can only come from Huu-ay-aht people. The Panel’s role is to listen so as to understand what is working and what is not working for Huu-ay-aht children and families, conduct external research into the best practices in child and family support, and make independent recommendations this spring for Huu-ay-aht consideration that are built upon Huu-ay-aht knowledge, experience, and law.
Community engagement sessions in Nanaimo, Victoria and at Anacla will also be announced soon. All parents, grandparents, children, youth, foster parents, and caregivers are invited to attend any session that is convenient for them. The Panel will also be extending an invitation for youth specific engagement, as well as posting questions online for those who wish to submit their written comments to the Panel. Please stay tuned to the Huu-ay-aht website for updates.
The Panel members are Kim Baird: Former Elected Chief of Tsawwassen First Nation (1999-2012), Order of Canada; Lydia Hwitsum: Former Elected Chief of Cowichan Tribes (1997-2001and 2007-11), Chair of First Nations Health Authority Board of Directors (2012-present); Dr. Myles Blank: Psychiatrist working with indigenous children, adults and families; Maegen Giltrow: Legal counsel with experience in Huu-ay-aht laws and Treaty implementation.
RSVP is not required for community circles, but please contact the Panel if you intend to come, with any questions, or if you wish to arrange another time to meet with the Panel: firstname.lastname@example.org.