Premier Christy Clark's newly appointed adviser on the high rate of aboriginal kids in care expects to convene a gathering of cabinet ministers and First Nations leaders from across British Columbia in the next few months to craft a new strategy to tackle the poverty rates that he says are the root of the problem.
"We don't need to sit around and talk about the problems. We need to work out practical, community-driven solutions," said Grand Chief Ed John, of the First Nations Summit.
Mr. John agreed this week to lead an effort to address the long-standing issue that has challenged governments across the country. More than half of the children in government care in B.C. are aboriginal and the overrepresentation rates in the North are even higher.
In an interview, he said it is "ridiculous" that the province offers more resources to support children once they have been taken away from their families than it does to support families so that children can safely remain in their communities.
At a gathering of the cabinet and First Nations leaders on Thursday, Ms. Clark agreed that poverty needs to be addressed in aboriginal communities to help improve outcomes for First Nations children.
The Premier said the provincewide gathering will aim to "make sure that we have indigenous approaches, appropriate indigenous approaches, for aboriginal children in every community where there are children who need our support."
At the meeting, hundreds of First Nations' leaders approved a 12-page reconciliation document that is being billed as a guide for future economic, social and legal relations between aboriginals and the province.
The document states that the goals and objectives of reconciliation include: "Achieving predictability and stability in the economy, and closing the socioeconomic gap that persists between First Nations and non-First Nations." Ms. Clark said reconciliation involves improving the lives of families, especially children. She said images last week of a dead three-year-old Syrian boy on a beach in Turkey hit her as a parent and hit First Nations parents even harder.
"In seeing Alan Kurdi there, we saw our own children," she said. "Every parent knows that sense of fragility. The number of First Nations children who find their way into government care is a problem across the country." She pledged to hold a meeting to discuss aboriginal children's issues in the coming months and vowed to ensure the federal government will send representatives to next year's chiefs' gathering.
"The commitment is really there," said Mr. John, who called the talks constructive and positive. "Now, we need to dig down and do the actions that are necessary to follow up. Last year, we kind of fell apart."
Ms. Clark said her government supports the document, and she called on First Nations to become the driving force behind a stronger economic and social partnership between First Nations and British Columbians.
But Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said the provincial government is currently at Strike 2 when it comes to reconciliation, and if there is no significant movement over the next year, First Nations will return to legal challenges and protest camps.
Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad said he could not put a deadline on reaching reconciliation.
First Nations – buoyed by the Supreme Court of Canada's land-rights decision in June, 2014 – want more say and revenue-sharing on proposed resource projects on land they consider their territory. Most of B.C.'s major development projects, including the Site C hydroelectric dam and the Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway pipeline projects, already face court challenges from First Nations.
With a report from The Canadian Press