[Witness spoke in Secwepemctsin]
I'm acknowledging and honouring the unceded lands and the peoples of the Algonquin territory, where these proceedings are taking place.
I'm from the Secwépemc Nation, one of the largest nations in the interior of British Columbia. I am a member of executive of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. We've been working towards the implementation, exercise and recognition of our inherent title and treaty rights. The union has been involved in advocacy work and efforts with the provincial government and the federal government to recognize and affirm our inherent jurisdiction over our children, for many decades.
It's important that the work of advancing the policy and legislation for our children is a priority of our B.C. first nations, and for the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. I'm also a member of the First Nations Leadership Council in B.C. We're made up of the First Nations Summit, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations. Our three organizations work together, and bring respective political mandates to build a strong collective and unified voice in British Columbia. One of those issues has always been the children and youth.
It started in 2002, with the Tsawwassen Accord—it will all be in our brief we submitted to you—and also in the leadership accord developed in 2005. We've been working toward these outcomes and changes for our children. Bill C-92 does offer practical and meaningful progress that aligns with our work here in B.C.
It is the utmost importance in critical timing this legislation is presenting. Even though we've done some provincial changes to the legislation out here, with respect to children and family, we find that we're still stuck in a lot of the old models. The only thing we were able to do was delegated agencies for many years. Really, the delegated agencies were supposed to be a transition to full jurisdiction for our nations.
We have been stuck in that process. We need to carry on with that work, into the affirmation and recognition of our inherent title rights, especially with our children. We have to change, because indigenous children across Canada are overrepresented in the system. The first contact with the settlers and colonial laws impacted our families, and broke down our families, through residential schools. It's documented in all the different commissions and hearings that have happened in Canada.
We need to make that change. Our families are fractured, and we need to bring them back together, for that meaningful change in the lives of the children—to be able to bring them home.
In our community, we recently brought 20 children home, but it was a lot of effort and fight to do that. We held an honouring and recognition for our children. Our nation also held one, about a month ago, in Vancouver, where many families were reunited with their children. That's only the start of the work. There needs to be a lot more work in bringing up our children, and truly connecting them with who they are, in their lands, their families and their communities. We have to have that meaningful change for our children and families.
One of the core purposes of this legislation must be to implement the United Nations declaration. It's truly a framework for reconciliation, and it was recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Yet, the provisions in the bill, under clause 8, do not reference the United Nations declaration as the context for the reconciliation in child welfare. It's only referenced in the preamble, but not in the critically important and substantive clause 8, on purpose and principles. That needs to change in this legislation.
I also emphasize this because the United Nations declaration reflects the minimum standards of the survival and dignity of our indigenous people. It sets out the minimum standards of human rights. It's an important provision that needs to be emphasized in the implementation of Bill C-92, once it becomes legislation. Article 22 focuses on the importance of respecting the rights of girls and women and ensuring they do not experience discrimination. For this reason, I urge you to consider an amendment to clause 8 of Bill C-92, adding paragraph (c), as follows, “To implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People as a progressive framework for the resolution of human rights issues impacting children, youth, and families.”
One of the other things I wanted to note is that this is a historic and transformational moment for Canada and for indigenous people across Canada. We cannot let this moment pass. If we went back in time to the residential school policy legislation changes, for example, had we made that change, how many families would not have had to go through that whole residential school experience? We're saying that with this child and family legislation, we have an opportunity to make these changes, stop the number of children going into care and reunify them with their community and their family.
There must be that meaningful change, because there are more children in care now through this child welfare system than at the height of the residential schools. It's continuing to grow. Former minister Philpott mentioned that this was a humanitarian crisis, which it very much is, so we can't sit by idly and let this go. We have to keep pressing forward on these changes that are to come. We've been doing it in the courts. We've been doing it in other avenues, but now we have the opportunity through legislation.
It's been about four years now since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report urging Canada to deal with the residential schools and the child welfare system, and to support languages. We're on that threshold, and we need to be able to carry on with this work and not let another year pass by.
Bill C-92 provides a means by which we can begin to action some of these calls. I think the core...the families, the communities and our legal systems are really important. Since the time it was established, that colonial law, as I mentioned, severed that connection. It was meant to assimilate our people into the system, and the result was the removal of our children and the disruption of our family systems.
The other part of this is the funding piece. Bill C-92 must include the funding. We can't rely just on the coordination agreements that dictate the resources for this rebuilding. Because of the colonial impact, it's important that Canada also attach the funding to this process so that we don't have to rely on, as Bernie mentioned earlier, the western view of the best interests of the child. It's really important to rely on the collective interests of not just the child, but the families as well. They were trying to stop the transmission of our culture, our ceremonies, our language and our laws, but in a reverse way we can turn that around so that we're empowering the children, the families and the communities for healing and for rebuilding. It's really important to rebuild our families, our communities, our nations.
Our Secwépemc Nation is doing a lot of that work in our child and family jurisdiction. It's called Stsmémelt. We've been working with the Secwépemc Child and Family Services and the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council in rebuilding that. It's a lot of work, and it does need to be resourced.
This approach didn't survive, because our people had resilience and have survived it. I stand before you today despite the damage that the colonial laws caused. We're going to continue to rebuild our people and our children, our families. Canada has an obligation to right these wrongs that impacted so many of our families and children across Canada. We really need to bring our children home so they can be raised in our communities by our own people and know that they can connect with their communities and their language and their laws.
I wanted to touch on one other area. I acknowledge and support a lot of the nations that have issues with this legislation, because each nation has a right to self-determination under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, article 3. If they wish to enact their own laws, they just need the recognition, whether it's their treaty recognition or their inherent recognition; they have the free choice to do that themselves. This legislation must find a way to respect that, or again, it will be a colonial path, and we don't want to go down that path.
We want to be able to respect those nations that make their own decisions for their nations and do not rely on Canada's laws to do that. It's their choice if they don't want to recognize the bill. We have a mandate here in B.C. Our chiefs have already identified the mandate to work with this bill, Bill C-92. It's federal legislation. It provides affirmation to our inherent children's rights that exist and does not rely on these colonial laws.
We will submit our brief. Again, thank you for the time to discuss these issues with you. I look forward to the questions you may have.