Students of all ages wear orange for Orange Shirt Day, which commemorates the struggle of Indigenous youth forced into residential schools — to which the present day child welfare system has been compared. (Black Press files)

PIB group marching on child welfare offices

Advocate decrying ministry’s lack of consultation with local PIB staff since government changeover

A group of concerned family members in the Penticton Indian Band are calling recent actions from the provincial government a move from a century in the past.

Staff with PIB have typically worked with the Ministry of Children and Family Development to make their work run smoothly in PIB territory, and help children stay in the community, rather than moved away from their culture.

That has included making sure the family and community has full disclosure that MCFD workers are coming onto band land to deal with a family.

Related: Study sees link between foster care, youth homelessness in Canada

But since the B.C. NDP government took over responsibility of the various ministries, including MCFD, Inez Pierre said ministry staff have come knocking on doors to apprehend children with little to no notice ahead of time.

“In the past five, six weeks, they have attempted to apprehend on a couple of occasions without notifying anyone,” Pierre said in an interview. “That puts our families in a turmoil.”

Pierre has also written an open letter to MCFD, calling on the ministry to “respect the fundamental human rights of Penticton Indian Band Children and Families to look after their own children, in their own way.”

In an attempt to start a dialogue on the issue, a group of “concerned parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles” will be marching from the bridge at Green Mountain Road to the MCFD office Friday morning.

“No one is going to set us back 100 years of apprehending children off of our community. We’ve been there, done that,” she said. “With the ‘60s Scoop, with the residential school systems, our families have been through this past 150 years. So we’re not going to go back.”

Related: ’60s Scoop deal to compensate victims, fund reconciliation foundation

The child welfare system in Canada has been likened to the residential schools of the past, with the federal government’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commission saying child welfare “has simply continued the assimilation that the residential school system started.”

“We feel it’s unacceptable behaviour for them to just follow the old governmental, paternalistic way of dealing with our communities,” Pierre said. “That’s unacceptable. Especially when it comes to our children and our families.”

Pierre offered that the change in provincial government likely played a role in the change in operations at the local MCFD office.

Related: Help promised for aboriginal child care

“I understand there’s a turnover in staff. That’s fine. But there needs to be a sit down and communicate with us better, so that we can put our plans into place,” she said.

“We do have somewhat of our own system of figuring out, problem solving for our families. But when you put a family in a panic without being notified by them that this is what they’re going to do, is more harmful than anything.”

Pierre said it was particularly interesting that the change has come under an NDP government, which has often touted itself as the more Indigenous-friendly of the two major provincial parties.

“We’re trying so hard to work with them. And they say all these wonderful words, and put them together, but let’s sit down and build on it,” she said. “Let’s talk about it and make it meaningful.”

Pierre said she would like the local group to sit down with local MCFD workers, as well as with Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy, and up to the federal level.

Related: B.C. announces funding for First Nations, Metis family agencies


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