Huu-ay-aht gains ground on commitment to working with both levels of government

More than three months ago Huu-ay-aht First Nations declared the treatment of Huu-ay-aht children by the Province of British Columbia a public health emergency.

Since that time, Huu-ay-aht Executive Council and staff have been working diligently to gain support from both the provincial and federal governments.

Earlier this spring, a delegation from Huu-ay-aht travelled to Victoria and Ottawa sharing Huu-ay-aht’s story and the extensive work that has been put into developing the Social Services Program. To date, Huu-ay-aht has funded the project on its own, paying more than $600,000 of the $1.8 million per year required to implement the 30 recommendations from the Social Services Report. The hope moving forward is to receive both financial and practical support from all levels of government.

“A number of years have passed since we received a public apology from Canada, but that was just words,” explained Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. “So far no resources have been put forward to help us deal with the issues that came out of residential schools. I think this is long overdue.”

On Wednesday, June 13, Huu-ay-aht made great progress on this goal when they hosted senior members of Indigenous Services Canada in the territory.

Child and Family Services Director General Margaret Buist attended on behalf of Indigenous Service Canada. She brought with her Joseph Damaso, B.C. Region Program Advisor for CFS Engagement and Reform as well as Jean MacDonald, B.C. Region Program Officer for CFS. Both MacDonald and Damaso sit at the Tripartite Table with Huu-ay-aht First Nations, Canada, and B.C.

“I was struck by how much work has already been done by your Nation, and so I wanted to see it first hand by visiting your territory,” Buist said of Huu-ay-aht’s Social Service Project. “We’ll get in your canoe and paddle with you for the children and families who need our help.”

Although all three guests were familiar with the project and how far Huu-ay-aht has come in implementing the 30 recommendations, Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin (Derek Peters), Councillor Sheila Charles, and the Chief Councillor all shared their personal reasons for pushing so hard on this project.

Councillor Charles explained the idea for this came out of years of witnessing the suffering and feeling helpless to do anything.

“It made me see a need in the community for something better,” she said. “What we were doing was just a band-aide solution if we didn’t talk about the personal stories of intergenerational trauma and what we can do to address them.”

Chief Councillor Dennis said the Nation is committed to carrying out the recommendations of the panel with or without help.

“We’re going to resource this,” he said. “I’d rather do it with B.C. and Canada at the table.”

ƛiišin said they must make healthy decisions for the community, and “by doing that we will achieve our goal to bring our children home.”

The week prior, the Social Service Project team met with three representatives from the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth. The Representative for Children and Youth has supported the province’s young people and their families in dealing with the provincial child and youth welfare system. It also provides oversight to this system and makes recommendations to improve it. It is a non-partisan, independent officer of the Legislature, reporting directly to the Legislative Assembly and not a government ministry. The guests included B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth Bernard Richard, as well as the organization’s Executive Director for Indigenous Strategies and Partnerships Haddock and its Chief Investigator Carly Hyman.

Chief Councillor Dennis explained to his guests that he sees parallels between the struggles Huu-ay-aht youth face today and the period when residential school were in place.

“We here today have an opportunity to reverse this,” he said. “We are determined to do what it takes to get our children back. We are going to push as hard as we can, and we want to partner with the province.”

Richard agreed it is an important subject and expressed his appreciation for the work that has been done by the Nation to date.

“We strongly agree with the principles you mentioned, and we are hearing the same desire for this kind of work from the Province,” he said. “If you are serious about bringing about change, you need the resources, and we will do what we can to help.”

Huu-ay-aht has requested $839,800 from the federal government, with a portion of this amount being funded through Jordan’s Principle. We are asking B.C. to match this contribution.