Northwest B.C. band blocks social workers from taking six-year-old off reserve

Social workers from B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) were denied entry into Gitanmaax reserve in Hazelton to take back a six-year-old child at the end of her scheduled visit time.

The child, a member of the Git’luuhl’um’hetxwit (a traditional wilp/house group of the Gitxsan Nation), was visiting her maternal family in Hazelton. The social workers were to collect her and take her back to Ontario where she previously resided with a foster family.

On the evening of Oct. 16, members from the Gitxsan Nation in northwest B.C., including hereditary chiefs, matriarchs and elected chiefs from different house groups, gathered outside the family’s home, blocked social workers from entering and read out a statement to them asserting the band’s jurisdiction on childcare in accordance with Gitxsan traditional laws.

In a video recording uploaded on social media, Tracey Woods, the chief councillor of Gitanmaax (one of the four bands of Gitxsan Nation) is seen telling the social workers that “the Gitanmaax chief and council do not authorize the MCFD and the RCMP to enter the Gitanmaax reserve for the purposes of removing [the child].”

Woods read out a statement issued by the band council to the social workers in which she told them that historical practices of removing children from their families resulted in children suffering physical and mental abuse, demanding that the child stay in the community and that MCFD work with the Nation to find suitable arrangements that keeps the child there.

A member from Git’luuhl’um’hetxwit house also claimed that the child suffered a broken collar bone in foster care. The allegations could not be confirmed as MCFD said it could not respond to case-specific questions.

Citing the privacy of the minor, MCFD also did not divulge information about how the child came to be in the foster/child protection system or why she was being taken to Ontario.

“Anytime there is an allegation of harm toward a child in ministry care, the ministry will launch a protocol investigation to ensure the safety of all children in the home. A protocol investigation includes visits to the home and interviews with family members, including all children in the home,” said MCFD in an email statement.

The ministry also said it was committed to working with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities to support their ongoing involvement in discussions and planning for the well-being of children who come into contact with the child welfare system.

“We are actively working with interested Indigenous communities and leadership to return their inherent jurisdiction over child welfare, and we were pleased to see new Federal legislation last year, clarifying the path to jurisdiction,“ the MCFD further said.
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