‘Better outcomes’: B.C. organization gets American award for championing Indigenous children

Staff at the Carrier Sekani Family Service's Sk’ai Zeh Yah Youth Centre in Prince George, B.C. pose for a quick photo during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy: Carrier Sekani Family Services

A First Nations service provider in British Columbia has won a prestigious American award for excellence in serving Indigenous children, family and communities.

Carrier Sekani Family Services (CSFS), which has offices in Prince George and Vancouver, is one of two recipients of the American National Indian Child Welfare Association’s 2022 Champions for Native Children Award.

The award honours an individual or group that demonstrates outstanding leadership and effectiveness in improving child welfare and health, youth justice or wellness for families and communities, or contributes to policies and programs that protect Indigenous children, enhance Indigenous sovereignty, and more.

“I believe our research demonstrates that First Nations with good governance can attain self-determination much easier and have better outcomes,” Warner Adam, CEO of CSFS, told Global News.

“First Nations can do and perform this work much, much better than that of government, particularly in the service sector.”

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Staff at Carrier Sekani Family Services’ Walk Tall program lead youth in a fish camp in 2021. Courtesy: Carrier Sekani Family Services

For more than three decades, CSFS has offered a suite of services to children and families of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, which represents seven First Nations in a territory of close to seven million hectares in B.C.’s northern interior. Its 180 or so programs touch on employment, prenatal nutrition, therapeutic services, safe houses, nursing, primary care, early childhood education, addictions recovery, legal services, and 2SLGBTQ+ support — to name a few.

Adam said there are about 350 staff in child and family health services alone, who offer virtual services for folks in remote communities to ensure no one is left behind. They helped pioneer telehealth in B.C. and the rest of Canada, he said.

“In the sector of child and family services, we’ve been instrumental in advocating for the federal law, which is Bill C-92, which enables First Nations to draw down legislation to govern their own child and family services across the country,” he added.

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Nations under the organization’s service umbrella include Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Tl’zat’en Nation, Ts’il Kaz Koh/Burns Lake Band, Takla Lake First Nation, Nadleh Whut’en Band, Saik’uz First Nation, and Stellat’en First Nation.

CSFS’s goal is to provide holistic, wraparound programs rooted in culture that deconstruct the harms of colonization and demonstrate excellence in Indigenous-led programming.

The award brings happiness and pride to the organization, said Warner.

Sarah Kastelic, executive director for the American National Indian Child Welfare Association, said CSFS is the second Canadian winner of the Champions for Native Children Award. The first was Cindy Blackstock in 2021.

“Since our inception almost 40 years ago, we’ve worked with First Nations as well as tribes here in the U.S.,” she told Global News.

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“I think we learn a lot from one another because our countries have different policy landscapes although our goals for our children are very similar.”

Kastelic said she was impressed by CSFS’s 30-year service history, “the vision they’ve created with community,” and how it has been implemented over time in response to the needs expressed by member communities.

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The non-profit, Oregon-based American National Indian Child Welfare Association works to support the health, safety and spiritual strength of American Indian and Alaska Native children. According to its website, it is the “most comprehensive” source of information on their welfare and its members across the United States help support the capacity of tribes to protect their children from abuse.

Warner will received the Champions for Native Children Award virtually during the organization’s annual Protecting Our Children Conference in April, which is also Child Abuse Prevention Month.

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Kastelic said up to 15 per cent of registrants for that annual conference are Canadian.

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