Alex Gervais, the indigenous teenager who evidently jumped to his death last year from a fourth-floor hotel window in Abbotsford, has galvanized debate about native child welfare in British Columbia.
Premier Christy Clark raised the stakes by putting some of the blame on the "delegated aboriginal agency" that was in charge of Mr. Gervais – who was left too much on his own.
But the provincial government, rather than uploading work from such agencies, such as the Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society, appears to be considering greater devolution in indigenous child welfare.
In particular, officials in the Ministry of Children and Family Development might feel relief from the sharp criticisms of Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth.
Indigenous child welfare in B.C. has a complex history. After the residential schools, the province took on native child protection through an amendment to the federal Indian Act in 1951. The current controversies are leading some indigenous leaders to call for "reassuming" their own child welfare, just when the provincial government may want some distance from it all.
Ms. Turpel-Lafond (herself indigenous) is quite right, however, that one large, imperfect bureaucracy would at least be better than 200 micro-agencies – in other words, B.C.'s 198 indigenous bands all trying to run their own child-welfare programs.
Still, in the mid-to-long term, a unified indigenous child-welfare agency in B.C. could be a somewhat happy medium. There could be greater opportunities for extended families to be involved in child welfare, and fewer removals of children scooped up from their communities – instead, helping families reconstitute themselves.
There is a case to be made that the First Nations Health Authority in B.C., established in 2013, and intended to narrow the health-care gap between aboriginals and other Canadians, could be a model for an analogous child-welfare authority.
Nothing new is easy. Last February, the federal Auditor-General observed some weaknesses in the FNHA's human-resources policies. The fraught subject of children in need of protection would not be likely to be any easier. But that's all the greater reason to persist.