By Jeff King and Heather Ramsay–Haida pride was at a peak in both Old Massett and Skidegate last week, as the province gave up some of its powers over child and family services.
The signing ceremony–a historic milestone in the words of Stan Hagen, Minister of Children and Family Services–puts the Haida firmly on the road to delivering some child and family services now provided by the province.
“(The agreement)Â…is to take back a responsibilty that belongs to the Haida Nation, and that is reclaiming our children,” said May Russ, speaking for Iljuwaas-Reynold Russ at the Old Massett ceremony.
“I am happy today to be here to celebrate with the people who have worked for many, many years towards having some input about our children that are in care,” said Old Massett Chief Councillor Elizabeth Moore “It is important that we advocate for our children. I am excited for what is going to happen in the next five years. I know there are enough people in our community to make it a really successful venture,” she said.
“Its signing today is not an end. It is a beginning,” said Richard Russ, chair of the Haida Child and Family Services Society, “we worked on this as a team and we are going to approach this together.”
“Our challenge as Haida is to live up to our side. The challenge of the province is to live up to their side,” said Arnie Bellis, Vice-President of the Council of the Haida Nation. “There are rumours running in government that you can’t make a deal with the Haida. But we have this agreement,” he added.
“It is all our dream to have this agreement for all of our children. We will be working to have all our children moved into our village. First it will be on-island. Then it will be around the world, to get all our children back,” said Judy Williams, former Old Massett councillor. “We are finally moving ahead and taking charge of our own children, our own families,” she said, “we have lost too many children. This is a step forward in the right direction.”
Then it was the Minister of Children and Family Development’s turn to speak. Stan Hagen said “I feel honoured and privileged to witness this joyous expression of Haida culture and spirituality.
The signing of (this) agreement marks the beginning of a new chapter. It seems particularly fitting to be beginning a new partnership, a partnership based on respect, honesty, integrity and trust. A number of Haida children in government care are being raised in non-Haida foster homes across the province. You decided you could do better,” he said.
The minister also said “you believe Haida people should care for Haida people, especially children and youth, and I agree with you. This is a day of celebration. A day that marks a milestone in the journey. This historic milestone is part of a much bigger goal, to keep your traditions strong and pass them on to future generations.”
In Skidegate on Thursday, Richard Russ said “we tried with the tools we had to negotiate the best agreement we could for our Haida families. We are now responsible. We can’t blame anyone else for our problems.” He said the 63 Haida children in care are related to every one of us, and that “everyone of us has familyÂ…in care right now. Everyone of us has families that need help. Today we start to help ourselves.”
“We are seeing an attempt to stop taking children from families who can not make children function properly at home. It is up to the nation to see children taken into custody will have a decent home when grown,” said Chief Gidkun-John Williams. “I’ve seen powerful men, completely sober, weep because they do not know who they are. We hope none of our children will grow up not knowing who they are.”
Skidegate Chief Councillor Willard Wilson said now he’d have to learn Haida, because a chief councillor (Old Massett’s Elizabeth Moore) spoke many words in Haida and “I don’t like to be outdone in anything.” He also said “it is so important that we look after our own children. Sometimes we get heartbroken when our children get taken away.
Minister Stan Hagen also spoke in Skidegate, saying this agreement is the twenty-fourth in the province. He said that of 9,000 children in care in BC, 50-percent are aboriginal, but in the north that statistic jumps to 73-percent.
Research supports that the best place for a child to grow up is in a strong family with guidance of elders, the minister said, and that the community here already supports an impressive number of Haida social programs.
The Haida Child and Family Services Society is aiming to be ready to begin delivery of support services to families, voluntary care agreements for children including temporary in-home care and special needs agreements, according to the province. It must meet certain readiness criteria set by Victoria, including governance, general and financial administration policy and others.
The signing ceremonies were held Wednesday evening in Old Massett with about 200 people attending and Thursday evening in Skidegate, where about 100 attended.
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