Sometimes confused with the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), NIȽ TU,O is actually a Coast Salish-run organization with a completely different approach than MCFD.
MCFD is a colonial organization, concerned with assessing the validity of and responding to Child Protection complaints which is given authority under the Child, Family and Community Service Ac. MCFD has the colonial authority to take children into the protection and care of the Crown, into foster care, or other types of alternative care for children.
South Island Coast Salish communities have been working diligently since the 1990s to reestablish sovereignty over child welfare in Coast Salish communities, as they never gave up jurisdiction over their children and families. South Island Coast Salish Nations came together to form NIȽ TU,O, as they recognized the need to end the history of colonial entities removing Indigenous children from their families.
NIȽ TU,O is the result of these many years of hard work by communities working together to reduce the power MCFD has over families and children. Given its authority by seven Coast Salish member bands, NIȽ TU,O has entered into an agreement with the Province and Federal government to take over some of the responsibilities and services detailed in the Child, Family and Community Service Act; this type of organization is called a Delegated Aboriginal Agency. NIȽ TU,O’s work does not impact NIȽ TU,O Member Nation’s pursuit of self-governance and self-determination through their involvement in asserting their inherent rights, or in relation to the Douglas Treaty or Modern Day Treaty process.
As such, NIȽ TU,O has a Coast Salish-driven mission, vision, values, and leadership and is concerned primarily with preventing Indigenous children from ending up in the colonial childcare system.
As a legal society, NIȽ TU,O operates under the rules of the SOCIETIES ACT and is guided by a Board of Directors made up of representatives appointed by the respective Chief and Council’s of the T’Sou-ke, Scia’new (Beecher Bay), Songhees, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Pauquachin, and Tseycum First Nations.
The Board of Directors is responsible for hiring the agency’s Executive Director (ED) who is accountable to the board for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the agency and hiring the staff (managers, administration staff, social workers, and family support workers).
The current team of 30 staff is led by Haida Gwaii-born Katharina Stocker at the helm as Executive Director. Stocker has worked at NIȽ TU,O since 2009.
“Based on who we are as Coast Salish NEW (people), NIȽ TU,O’s mission is to provide programs and services that are built on a foundation of our SNEPENEK (teaching) of our SULKWAN (Elders) by NUTSAMAUT SKWALAWAN (working together as one); our trained staff support children and families in a culturally safe manner with confidentiality and professionalism. Our families assume their roles and responsibilities within the extended family and community and our Board of Directors is our voice and commitment to each of the seven member-communities that we serve.”
In executing the society’s mission, NIȽ TU,O staff members have been seen attending Coast Salish community homes alongside MCFD in response to child welfare complaints, which has contributed to the confusion that NIȽ TU,O is the same organization as MCFD.
In these cases, NIȽ TU,O staff are attending in order to provide culturally safe support and advocacy for the families under investigation and to intervene or take over roles from MCFD where possible.
“A big misconception people still have is that we will take people’s kids away, but the truth is, we have actually facilitated the return of many children from the custody of MCFD back into the care of their families by working with families to improve conditions for the child.” Katharina Stocker, the Executive Director explains.
The supports and services offered are by NIȽ TU,O are twofold. Some are considered “delegated services” which are the types of services that MCFD provides, like:
Whereas the services MCFD provides are typically without much training on Coast Salish history or values NIȽ TU,O staff are trained to provide culturally safe services – meaning they understand Coast Salish family systems and culture, the challenges of the legacy of colonialism, and the importance of using culturally appropriate solutions to rebuild and strengthen families.
“Some community members think if they call us to get support that they’ll be getting their family members in trouble. Simply put, that is the opposite of what we’re here for. We are here to support families and to prevent child safety concerns from happening in the first place.” Stocker continues.
In the infrequent case where the child needs alternate living arrangements, NIȽ TU,O will work with families to place the child with a relative or community member – and provide that relative or community member with training and resources to ensure they can be successful. This work is done in accordance with Coast Salish foundational values of the organization, that state:
“We believe in:
- Our culture and values of NEW (our people).
- In our traditional teachings that come from the land, air, and water.
- Meeting the needs of our children and their families physically, emotionally, spiritually, culturally, and psychologically.
- Providing prevention programs and services to our young children, youth and families, while building trust each step of the way.
- Practicing confidentiality, respect, and integrity while building capacity and educating our children, families, leadership and communities about their rights and responsibilities.
- Children staying with their families and extended families
- In exerting our rights and responsibilities for our children and families with external agencies and government.”
Stocker explains, “We understand the differences between poverty and neglect, that overcrowding in homes, trauma and addiction issues are as a direct result of colonialism. We understand that families experiencing these challenges need additional support, so that’s the kind of understanding and support we offer.”
In addition to the “delegated services” taken over from MCFD, NIȽ TU,O also offers numerous programs and workshops for a wide range of community members – from expecting parents, to families with children, children, and youth up to 24 years of age – all dedicated to helping Coast Salish community members have happy, healthy, successful lives.
For instance, families that are working with one of NIȽ TU,O’s family support workers can attend the Sweet Dreams Safe Sleep program which equips attendees with the skills and supplies to ensure optimal rest for children. Another program, called Ready to Rent, can provide the training and confidence to successfully rent property off-reserve. These are just a few examples of the programs currently running, and more are being added all the time.
NIȽ TU,O is currently in the process of working with the Provincial Office of the Ministry of Children and Family Development and our communities to acquire C6 delegation which will allow the society to take over the child protection services entirely.