Leaders and community members of Gitxsan Nation gathered in northeastern B.C. on Saturday evening to block social workers from apprehending a 6-year-old girl and “end the tragic legacy of our children being stolen.”
The Git'luuhl'um'hetxwit house group, or wilp, of the Gitxsan Nation and the Gitanmaax Band Council—two distinct governing bodies in Gitxsan Nation—joined forces in the northeastern B.C. region to prevent the Ministry of Children and Family Development from taking the child into government custody. The young girl is now in joint protective custody within her community, according to the Git'luuhl'um'hetxwit media account.
“We have drawn the line to ensure that all our children have access to family, culture, language and their traditional territories,” the media release says.
According to the post, the girl is safe with loved ones and matriarchs.
“She is learning our language, playing with cousins, and hearing the stories of her ancestors,” the statement says. “Never again will Canada steal our future generations.”
Ministry of Children and Family Development spokesperson Shawn Larabee told VICE World News in a statement that working towards Indigenous-led jurisdiction over child welfare is a “relatively new process” and is outlined by the federal government. The B.C. ministry “has exchanged initial correspondence” with the Gitanmaax Band, and is now collaborating with Indigenous Services Canada, Larabee said.
Kolin Sutherland-Wilson is Gitxsan and a member of the Git'luuhl'um'hetxwit wilp who attended a rally on Monday in support of the girl.
“We’re here as a very gentle reminder that we have a whole community watching the actions during these precedent-setting events,” Sutherland-Wilson said. “Gitxsan people have jurisdiction over Gitxsan children, just like all Indigenous people should have jurisdiction over Indigenous children.”
Hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children have been removed from their families—through foster care, Canada’s residential school system, which is largely considered the precursor to foster care, and the Sixties Scoop—a period of time in the 1960s when child welfare-related apprehensions of Indigenous children peaked at an all time high. Nationwide, Indigenous children make up more than half of all kids in care, despite representing less than 8 percent of the population.
“I have many aunties and uncles and grandparents who should be here right now, but many were taken away and never returned,” Sutherland-Wilson said. “The intention right now is to ultimately let Canada know that enough is enough.”
The government and churches forcibly assimilated Indigenous peoples and nations by making about 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children attend residential “schools.” Sexual and physical abuses, disease, and malnutrition were rampant. Children were taken from their families, communities, and cultures, and forbidden from expressing their languages and cultures. It all amounts to genocide, according to experts.
“A lot of people—Canadians—really grapple with this concept of genocide, but genocide is simply put as the erasure of a distinct people, the erasure of a social identity,” Sutherland-Wilson said.
“If our kids are taken away, removed, they don't understand who they are, where they come from, who they belong to, and who their ancestors are, and we’ll cease to exist as a people.”
According to the Git'luuhl'um'hetxwit media release, the wilp has kept resource extractive industries such as forestry out of their territories for children like the 6-year-old girl.
In the summer, Cowessess First Nation became the first Indigenous community in Canada to officially take control of its child welfare system about a month after it confirmed 751 unmarked graves at a former residential school.
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