Huu-ay-aht First Nations has made a commitment to ensure that no Huu-ay-aht children are in care. To do this, they have formed a department dedicated to focusing on prevention instead of apprehension.
Part of making this new program a success is working in cooperation with different levels of government. The Government of Canada and the Provincial Government have both made financial commitments to Huu-ay-aht, and this funding has helped Huu-ay-aht implement 30 recommendations made by an independent panel.
Last week, Minister of Children and Family Development for British Columbia, Kathrine Conroy, visited with the members of the Social Services Department and representatives of Huu-ay-aht First Nations at the Port Alberni Government Office.
“I am pleased to be partnering with the province and working hard to create change within our Nation,” explained Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. during the luncheon Huu-ay-aht hosted on March 20. “Our dream is to have all of our children back in our territory. To make that a reality, it will take a lot of communication and partnering with whoever can help us achieve our goal.”
Tayii Ḥaw̓ił ƛiišin Derek Peters echoed these remarks and added that he is focused on the health and wellbeing of his people. He acknowledged that Huu-ay-aht would not be as far along as it is in its commitment if it weren’t for strong partnerships the Nation has developed along the way.
“It is important that we can sit down and have positive and healthy discussions like we are having today,” ƛiišin said. “We recognize this is a new road we are travelling, but I am positive we will get there.”
Councillor Sheila Charles took the time to ensure the Minister understood what lead the Nation to develop such a bold goal for itself – from the first request she brought to council, to forming an independent panel to explore the subject, and finally implementation of the plan. She said something had to be done to start healing the wounds created by the residential schools. She explained it is essential that the healing of intergenerational trauma begin, or the Nation and its citizens will never be whole again.
“We are told we are trailblazers,” she said. “It takes a lot of heart, resources, effort, and comprehension to offer wraparound support to prevent families from being torn apart. But that is the commitment we have made, and we will get there. We will get to a place where our children are home.”
She acknowledged that Huu-ay-aht can’t do it alone, making the relationships the Nation has made even more important.
Minister Conroy said her dream is that one day everyone will work together to ensure families are coming home and can remain together.
“I respect what you are doing as a Nation, and we want to support Nations with their goals,” she said. “We have to all work together to keep kids at home, close to their culture.”
The minister heard many examples of how the Nation is moving forward, including success stories where children were removed from their home, but eventually Huu-ay-aht was able to intervene to bring children home.
When lunch was served and the Minister had a moment to reflect on the day’s meeting, she said it was extremely informative, and she was glad to have the time to discuss it with everyone.
“It’s really good to get away and meet with Nations to see what’s working and what’s not,” she said. “It’s inspiring to visit and hear what’s going on, and most of all, to hear it is working.”