VICTORIA, B.C. - Sonia Furstenau, MLA for the Cowichan Valley and B.C. Green Caucus spokesperson for children and family development, welcomed dozens of residents from around the region to a town hall meeting in downtown Duncan Feb. 7 to discuss the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care.
She was joined by a panel of experts: Dr. Shannon Waters, medical health officer for Cowichan Valley; Ernie Elliott, retired band manager with Cowichan Tribes; Kate Koyote, Matraea Midwifery; Patricia Dawn, Red Willow Society, and constituency assistant B McKenzie. Zeneca Morton, managing lawyer for the Parent Legal Centre, spoke at the end of the session to raise awareness of the centre’s resources.
“We wanted to include as many indigenous voices as possible, to give voice to those who are most underrepresented in these conversations,” said Furstenau, noting all but two panelist were indigenous.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development was invited to participate.
Cowichan Tribe elder Tousilum opened the evening by telling his story of being taken from his family at age 5 to enter the residential school system.
“Imagine you had to give up your child or be sent to jail,” Tousilum said. “That they told you your culture was not good enough, and they ripped your children from you.”
The audience listened closely and many wiped their eyes as they heard the testimony from the panel.
And listening openly and bringing the community together is exactly that this town hall was meant to do.
“We need to do all we can as a community to support families staying together, for the well-being of the children involved,” said Furstenau.
Cowichan Region is home to B.C.’s largest Indigenous population.
“The child apprehension rate in my riding is twice the provincial average,” said Furstenau. “The impacts of an unhealthy child welfare system are far reaching and tragic. I will continue to work tirelessly to prioritize this issue, amplify the voices of those affected, and support my community as we work towards solutions. There remains much work to be done to resolve this humanitarian crisis.”
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