Submitted by Bill McKenzie-Following years of hard work and over a year of face-to-face negotiations with INAC and the provincial government, we reached a delegation enabling agreement on March 29 and it was signed in Old Massett on March 30.
There was a good turnout of local residents as well as some Skidegate residents to witness the signing. We plan to have a more formal celebration in both Old Massett and Skidegate in June.
This agreement has not come soon enough. At the last count there were 63 Haida children in government care and that number continues to rise each year. Most of these children are in non-Haida foster homes scattered across the province. We are confident that we will have a different approach to social work and we will keep Haida children on Haida Gwaii, within our own culture.
For the last 12 years many people from both our communities have been involved in working towards this goal. Over the last two years, a working group with representation from both councils and from the Council of the Haida Nation spearheaded the planning. The current working group includes Judy Williams and Terry Hamilton from Old Massett; Bob Mills, Richard Russ and Ooka from Skidegate; and Ron Williams from the CHN. Others have also been involved in moving this initiative forward including Wilson Brown, Vern Brown, Elizabeth Moore and Florence Lockyer from Old Massett and Amanda Reid-Stevens, Ruth Gladstone-Davies and Willard Wilson from Skidegate. Richard Russ has been our chief negotiator.
We believe this agreement is a good one. We stood firm on a number of issues. For example, we insisted that a clause be included in the agreement giving the Haida the right to care for and provide service to Haida children and families wherever they reside. We have also insisted that the geographical service area not be limited to the two communities of Skidegate and Old Massett but include all of Haida Gwaii. Similar agreements with other First Nations have limited their authority to on-reserve services only. We also ensured that reference to the constitution of the Haida Nation was made in the agreement despite strong objections from the government negotiators.
Now that we have an agreement and funding will soon be in place, our work is just beginning. Over the next few months we will have to open offices in both Haida communities; develop protocols with the RCMP, the hospitals, the school district and the Ministry of Children and Families; appoint a board of directors; recruit, hire and train an executive director, social workers, family outreach workers and clerical staff. We know there is a lot of interest in these positions so we plan to recruit and hire our staff in the fairest way possible.
We realize that providing child welfare services to our communities will not be easy. Also, it is not going to happen overnight. We will begin by providing basic family support services to some of our vulnerable families. Within a year, we plan to be recruiting our own foster homes. Within two years we plan to take over guardianship services to Haida children presently in the care of the government and within six years, we hope to be providing a full range of services including child protection.
If you have any questions or suggestions concerning our new Haida Child and Family Services agency, please feel free to call either Monica Brown or Bill McKenzie at 626-5257.
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