A pilot project aimed at reducing the number of aboriginal children in government care will involve First Nations elders in the court process and place a focus on healing and treatment, a model the provincial government says could be expanded if it's successful.
First Nations leaders and the province unveiled the project, which will involve up to 15 families, at a news conference Tuesday.
"The time has come for us now to reclaim our children," Chief Clifford White of Gitxaala Nation told reporters.
The province has pledged $90,000 to cover the first year of the program.
Stephanie Cadieux, British Columbia's Minister of Children, said the families will be identified through social workers and the Spirit of the Children Society, which is based in New Westminster.
The project will see elders participate in court proceedings and Ms. Cadieux said families will develop healing plans complete with treatment options and cultural ceremonies.
The province said aboriginal children are 12 times more likely to be in government care than non-aboriginal children, and tend to remain in care for a significantly longer period.
Ms. Cadieux said her ministry has had success developing response plans for non-aboriginal families but has had less success with aboriginal ones.
"That's what we want to change," she said.
"When a family is coming in contact with the system and is at risk of losing their children … bringing the elders around to help create a healing plan for the family in a culturally responsive way, that deals with whatever the issue is for the parents.
"And hopefully we can keep the children at home through that process."
Ms. Cadieux said that if the project is successful, the province will consider utilizing it or similar programs elsewhere.
Bernard Richard, British Columbia's acting representative for children and youth, in an interview described the project as "modest" but said more culturally relevant programming is needed.
Grand Chief Edward John released a report in November that made 85 recommendations to improve the child-welfare system.
He said he hoped his work as a special adviser to the province would help reduce the number of aboriginal children in care.
He called for a sweeping overhaul of the current system, including millions of dollars in new resources, and the province immediately committed to adopting all of the recommendations within its jurisdiction.
Ms. Cadieux said the new pilot project touches on several of the recommendations Mr. John made.
He recommended, among other things, that court proceedings involving child welfare better include aboriginal communities.
Mr. John, in an interview, said he supports the pilot project.
When asked if he is satisfied with the response to his report recommendations to date, he said he will be interested to see what the province does in its upcoming budget.
British Columbia's Justice Minister, Suzanne Anton, who also spoke at Tuesday's news conference, said First Nations communities have been telling the province that too many aboriginal children are taken into care.
She said the pilot project will focus on keeping families together.
Mr. White, who said he is a product of the child-welfare system and grew up in a foster home, said elders have been working to get the pilot project off the ground for years.
"All I can say is I have a lot of faith in this program because it's based on our cultural beliefs, it's based on aboriginal spirituality, it's based on the interconnectedness of all our children, and on Mother Earth," he said.
Mr. White at one point held his five-year-old daughter during the news conference.
When asked what would constitute a success for the program, he said: "This is success."