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Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations sign agreement on jurisdiction pathway

The agreement is an important step on the Nations’ journey to take back jurisdiction
Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations photo

Members of Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations celebrated a significant milestone on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, by signing a child and family services agreement with the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

The agreement is an important step on the Nations’ journey to take back jurisdiction over protecting and uplifting their children and families based on their own laws and culture.

“We as Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations are pleased with the signing of this agreement, as it is one step closer to self-governance and respecting our ways of doing things. We look forward to making decisions in the best interest of our children in care,” said Chief Terry Walkus. “We will be working closely with all families to ensure the return home of Gwa’sala and ‘Nakwaxda’xw children.”

The community agreement was signed between the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw and the ministry to guide interactions, planning and decision-making specific to child welfare decisions and to support Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw children and youth to remain safely connected to their families, culture and community.

The agreement builds on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw’s cultural laws of treating children as długwe (precious gifts from heaven) and kwa’layu (the reason for living for the parents and grandparents). It incorporates the concept of Axu’stila du ginganaman, which means taking care of all the children, because the terms of the agreement apply to all ministry directors throughout the province. By incorporating the Nations’ distinct practices, customs, laws, language and traditions into child and family services provided by the ministry, the agreement promotes meaningful involvement and cultural continuity.

“This agreement upholds the inherent right of the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations to support their children and families in alignment with their distinct beliefs, cultural practices, traditions and laws,” said Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family Development. “Our ministry is honoured to demonstrate our commitment to supporting Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations to exercise their jurisdiction and build their vision for generations to come.”

Community designates, appointed by Chief and Council and collaborating with the ministry, will provide 24/7 support for child-welfare matters as they arise and ensure Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw are fully involved in decisions that ministry directors make regarding their children and families.

This represents a journey of dialogue and negotiation between the Nations and the ministry that began in November 2022 and is an important milestone for co-operation and reconciliation between B.C. and Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw. This community agreement is also an important stepping stone on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations’ path to resume their inherent jurisdiction over child and family services as the Nations work toward a co-ordination agreement with B.C. and Canada.

While legally binding as of Nov. 15, 2023, the agreement will become operational provincewide in February 2024 to allow time for Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw and the ministry to co-create and deliver training to ministry staff and the Nations’ community designates who will liaise between families and the ministry.

This is the second community agreement of its kind in B.C. and follows the Simpcw First Nation’s signing of their Tcwesétmentem: Walking Together Agreement in April 2022.

The signing of this agreement aligns with section 4.17 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act Action Plan 2022-2027, which states: In collaboration with B.C. First Nations and Métis Peoples, and Inuit, continue implementing changes to substantially reduce the number of Indigenous children and youth in care through increased prevention and family support services at all stages of contact with the child welfare system.

Community agreements are specific to s. 92.1(2) of the provincial Child, Family and Community Service Act and are focused on assessments, child welfare investigations, development of care plans and planning for the needs of Indigenous children as well as placement decisions when children come into care.

This community agreement directly supports the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) by supporting Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw to be directly involved in child welfare decisions that impact their children, youth and families.

One unique aspect of this community agreement is the important concepts woven through it in Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw Nations’ Bakwumgala language, including concepts such as:

* Namima, the concept of the Nations’ traditional kinship and clan system and traditional leadership.

* Galgapothla, the concept of holding hands and working together as a family or community to lift each other up.

* Długwe, the concept that Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw children as precious gifts from heaven.

* Gukwdzi, the concept of the building, sometimes known as a Big House, and the laws, culture, teachings, ceremonies, governance and practices that sustain the structure and are practiced in relation to it.