The legislature of the Canadian province of British Columbia Friday passed the Indigenous Self-Government in Child and Family Services Amendment Act, making BC the first Canadian province to recognize an inherent right of self-government for indigenous peoples directly in provincial legislation. The Act fundamentally alters the provision of child welfare and family services to indigenous peoples in the province by transferring jurisdiction over these matters to indigenous governments.
The law provides a pathway for indigenous governments to enact their own legislation over child and family services, as well as removing barriers to allow indigenous governments to exercise direct responsibility over matters of child protection, custody, guardianship and care. The Act also strengthens consultation and consent-based decision-making with indigenous communities regarding adoption placements for indigenous children and youth.
Four indigenous governments are already engaged in discussions with the provincial and federal governments to exercise their jurisdiction and more are preparing to do the same.
The former premier of British Columbia, John Horgan, has stated that the legislation marks “a pivotal shift toward real and meaningful change that respects Indigenous rights and improves services and supports” to indigenous peoples in the province. One of the aims of the Act is to address the overrepresentation of indigenous children in the province’s child and family services system. Indigenous children comprise less than 10 percent of the child population yet represent 68 percent of the children in provincial care.
Indigenous groups in British Columbia have welcomed this long-awaited change. Cheryl Casimer, Political Executive of the First Nations Summit, commented that:
First Nations children are strong and resilient. They deserve this impactful legislation that affirms their rights, their parents’ and grandparents’ commitment to them, and First Nations’ duty to ensure there is an opportunity for them to be raised with their traditional values, language, culture and identity. This legislation paves a new path towards a brighter future for Child and Family Services in British Columbia, one that puts a focus on successful outcomes for our children.
The historic legislation comes at a time when governments and courts across North America are debating the question of how to properly address indigenous child welfare. In the US, the Supreme Court is currently considering a challenge to the US federal Indigenous Child Welfare Act.