Between downtown Victoria BC and the Swartz Bay Ferry terminal sits a stunning stylized Coast Salish Longhouse.
The newly renovated facility was a finalist in the 2021 C.A.R.E. Awards (Outlook Project Management) in Victoria BC and is the newly renovated NIȽ TU,O Child and Family Services Society offices. As a Coast Salish run organization with a mission to keep children in Coast Salish communities and with their families, NIȽ TU,O serves the children and families of seven Coast Salish communities (Beecher Bay, Pauquachin, Songhees, Tsawout, Tsartlip, Tseycum, T’Sou-ke) in southern Vancouver Island. Until very recently, NIȽ TU,O operated out of a leaky, poorly insulated, moldy, and bug-infested building – the result of chronic underfunding.
In a landmark decision in 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) found that the intentional decades of underfunding of Indigenous children’s services – up to 38% less – was responsible for uprooting 40,000 Indigenous children and transferring them into the foster care system. A system where Indigenous children often experience the same racism, neglect, and harm the Canadian Government has perpetuated for over 100 years. Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society who launched the human rights complaint leading to the CHRT ruling, commenting on NIȽ TU,O’s newly renovated building shares,
“The Tribunal has confirmed the need and right for First Nations children and their families to have access to proper building infrastructures to ensure that they can grow up healthy and safe regardless of income. This building remediation project is extremely important given the housing crisis in First Nations communities.”
Working for the first time with equitable funding, Katharina Stocker, the Executive Director of NIȽ TU,O shares,
“The critical importance of providing safe, warm, and culturally appropriate facilities for the children and families we serve in our new building cannot be overstated. We are grateful for the years of work it took for Cindy Blackstock and her team to research, investigate and reveal why we as First Nations were dealing with the unprecedented levels of child poverty and child removals in our communities.”
From this new culturally relevant building, Stocker fulfills the organization’s mission by providing a wide range of support and programs for Coast Salish children and their families. With a focus on family strengthening, NIȽ TU,O programming is designed to provide culturally appropriate learning experiences, training, and support for families, children, and youths of member Coast Salish communities.
“We are keeping kids out of the foster care system and in the community by providing training and opportunities for the families to enhance their skills and take the lead in child development in their own homes”. When a situation arises where an Indigenous parent needs time and space to work on their parenting abilities, our priority is placing kids with a relative or community member. Our caregivers receive trauma-informed, culturally relevant support to ensure our children receive the best care possible.”
In spite of the unsuitable facilities and decades of intentional underfunding, racism and lack of cultural awareness, Stocker, with the help of her 20+ person team has managed to actually decrease the number of kids in the foster care system.
“Results like these don’t come for free,” Stocker shares. “We often operate in these culturally unsafe, sexist and racist systems to advocate for Coast Salish children and families. While the recent ruling has changed the dollar number, it hasn’t changed the inherent bias in the way these systems operate.”
“The dedication of the staff on the ground doing this work never ceases to amaze me. Even though we knew we weren’t receiving the money we needed, even though we worked in substandard building conditions for years, every single child we help to stay in their community of origin makes it worth it.”
For more information about the services and supports NIȽ TU,O offers Coast Salish families, please visit www.niltuo.ca
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