Less than two weeks after a B.C. First Nation banded together to physically stop a social worker from taking away a six-year-old girl, a provincial court judge has ruled that she can stay.
Judge Susan Mengering determined it was in her best interests to remain in the custody of her “family and her nation in her cultural home,” the Gitanmaax Band said in a statement Friday.
“It was the right decision. It was the honourable decision. And it was a small step in the right direction toward reconciliation,” said Chief Tracey Woods.
On Oct. 17, Gitanmaax hereditary chiefs and community members joined allies and supporters in blocking the path of a social worker who sought to return the girl to foster care.
The child had been visiting her matrilineal family for a week in Gitanmaax, a reserve in Hazelton, B.C., and belongs to the Git’luuhl’um’hetxwit house of the Gitxsan Nation.
“She is safe with her maternal aunt, living and attending school on her traditional territory with her brother and cousins,” Woods said in the statement.
“She can continue building a relationship with her mother, siblings, and entire extended family and wilp (clan).”
To protect her identity, little information has been shared about the girl’s family circumstances in Gitanmaax or her previous experience in provincial foster care.
Her house group said she suffered a broken collarbone under the ministry’s care, but details of that injury have also been kept private.
In an Instagram post earlier this week, Git’luuhl’um’hetxwit said the Ministry of Children and Family Development had “backed off and promised not to apprehend the young one” in the aftermath of the community’s actions.
On Friday, Woods said the ministry had betrayed that promise and breached the honour of the Crown by applying for an order to remove the child without notifying the community.
“Yesterday’s legal maneuver … is reminiscent of the actions that the Crown took when it forcibly removed our children from us and sent them to residential schools,” she said.
The children’s ministry, which regulates B.C. Child Protection Services, has repeatedly declined to comment on the case.
In an emailed statement earlier this week, it said it is “actively working with interested Indigenous communities and leadership to return their inherent jurisdiction over child welfare.”
Agreement discussions are underway with five First Nations, it told Global News, and it will follow the process and timelines established by Indigenous Services Canada to continue the work.
Canada’s foster care system has been compared to a modern-day residential school system.
According to census data, Indigenous children represent less than eight per cent of Canada’s children under age 14, but make up more than half of children in foster care.
Fewer than 3,500 Indigenous children are in provincial care in B.C. right now — the lowest number in 21 years, the ministry said.
It also reported that more than 88 per cent of Indigenous children who were part of the child welfare system were able to return to their families after receiving culturally appropriate supports.
As of August, more than 1,300 Indigenous children had such arrangements.