As the organization celebrated their 25 year anniversary in 2022, NIȽ TU,O continues to expand the services, programs, and support available to Coast Salish children and families. In July 2022, the organization welcomed five new staff to the growing team. 

Since its inception in 1997, NIȽ TU,O has experienced 20% growth year over year, which represents an increase in the quality of support available for community members, a reduction in the number of Coast Salish Children who are being cared for by non-community members, and a dramatic uptick in the preventative, family strengthening programs available for the communities NIȽ TU,O serves. Five new staff have recently started and the organization is actively hiring for additional positions.

However, the organization’s future wasn’t always so bright. During 25 years of operations NIȽ TU,O has faced several challenges. The Canadian government has been a major obstacle as illustrated by the 2016 landmark decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. This tribunal showed that Indigenous children and family service agencies across Canada were massively underfunded on reserve, receiving only 40% of the funding that non-Indigenous children and family services received off a reservation. It took two years (until 2018), for this decision to push the federal government to provide needs based funding to Indigenous Child and Family Service agencies. This gave NIȽ TU,O the opportunity to secure renovation funds to create a safe and culturally relevant space to continue to provide cutting edge services and programs .

Another major change since the beginning of the organization in 1997 is that, previously, many Coast Salish children were in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD). Since NIȽ TU,O entered into an agreement to take over the resources and guardianship responsibilities and services detailed in the Child, Family and Community Service Act, many aspects of MCFD in the Coast Salish traditional area are now taken care of by NIȽ TU,O. The Collective Nations who were signatories to this agreement were Beecher Bay, Pauquachin, Songhees, Tsartlip and Tsawout, a year later T’Sou-ke joined and in 2012 Tseycum joined. This Delegation Enabling Agreement (DEA) ensured that any of the area Nations could provide a BCR and have NIL TU,O take care of their child and family services needs. This change played a critical role in ensuring the Coast Salish communities of Beecher Bay, Pauquachin, Songhees, Tsartlip, Tsawout, Tseycum, and T’Sou-ke establish sovereignty over child welfare. 

There were also financial and legal obstacles that made funding programs and services for children and families more difficult. For instance, in 2008 – 09, the organization was going through a legal dispute with the union which took time and money and went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to resolve. Upon resolution of this case, a union was instituted as the union for a majority of the staff of NIL TU,O.

Today, NIȽ TU,O’s existence directly benefits the seven Coast Salish communities NIȽ TU,O serves in important ways:

More Children Living With Extended Family & With Indigenous Caregivers 

Currently, NIȽ TU,O’s services are delegated from the Ministry of Children and Families (MCFD). As such, NIȽ TU,O is a Delegated Aboriginal Agency (DAA) with C4 delegation (which means we provide Guardianship for children that have come into care). This means NIȽ TU,O has had children that were once in the Ministry’s care now under the care of our Guardianship social workers. When children are cared for by NIȽ TU,O, it means that we take the time and find extended family members and make contact with them. Many times extended families don’t know that a related child has been removed from their home. This gives them the opportunity to have this relative come to live with them and maintain family connections, as well as cultural and community connections. NIL TU,O takes the time to also connect with the community/Band if a family is unable to take care of them, then maybe a family in the community they are from can take them in. If this opportunity is unavailable to them, then an Indigenous family or a non-Indigenous foster family that have been provided training and supports by our agency is the next best option.

Since NIȽ TU,O’s beginning as a DAA, the number of children placed with extended family, such as grandparents, aunties, uncles, brothers, and sisters who often share the same community and culture, versus children placed with stranger care, has increased and this has improved children’s wellbeing and care substantially. 

Executive Director Katharina Stocker shares, “Keeping children in contact with their culture and community, in line with the Coast Salish definitions of care ensures that children will know where they belong and continue to have relationships with their relatives and community.”

We are proud to say that we have not had any children come into care in the past 5 + years due to the proactive prevention work our staff have done in collaboration with the nations. 

These ongoing efforts help to execute NIȽ TU,O’s mandate of providing culturally safe services rooted in the Coast Salish worldview to support Coast Salish family systems, mitigate the impact of colonialism, and provide culturally appropriate solutions.

Additional Community-led Family Strengthening & Prevention-Based Programs

Another major aspect of NIȽ TU,O’s expansion of programs and services to better serve Coast Salish communities is the launch of the year-long Substantive Equality Pilot Project. Beginning in April 2022, this project focuses on increasing resources to address systemic issues by reinforcing the existing Family Strengthening services, which provide child-risk mitigation and prevention resources for Coast Salish families and youth.

NIȽ TU,O now receives needs-based funding from the federal government, due to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Victory, spearheaded by Cindy Blackstock’s work as a Canadian Gitxsan activist for child welfare and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada as well as a report and recommendations issued by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy (IFSD) after its evaluation of Indigenous Services Canada’s (ISC) Child and Family Services.

As part of the report’s recommendation to increase preventative funding, the Substantive Equality Project provides the same level of resources for prevention as previously would be available only during intervention. The impact of this new approach cannot be overstated.

Leslie-Ann Paige, Coast Salish Initiatives Manager at NIȽ TU,O states, “Over half of the reasons Coast Salish children end up in care are due to systemic issues directly attributed to colonialism. It’s not that Coast Salish kids are neglected, it’s simply that the aftermath of sustained abuse has resulted in inadequate housing and widespread poverty which then puts children at risk.” Paige continues, “This program enables us to begin to remedy issues that never should have occurred in the first place.”

Now, with more funding than before, the organization is relying on community and Family Support Workers to direct the kinds of programming that will improve family’s living conditions. 

For example, some problems relating to mold, space, or housing can be mitigated or alleviated by NIȽ TU,O. 

Continues Paige, “Now we can help with something like a broken fridge or a stove that needs fixing. By dealing with those more basic needs, family stress will hopefully go down, which in turn makes life easier and safer for children. We are so pleased to be able to plan to develop new programs, depending on community needs and feedback.”

NIȽ TU,O is also making changes to partner with band offices to make services even more accessible. 

During this expansion, NIȽ TU,O will continue to stay focused on serving Coast Salish families and children, to keep children with their families and in community and out of the colonial childcare system. With 25 years serving community, it’s clear NIȽ TU,O has a bright future on the horizon in continuing to providing life-changing care for South Island Coast Salish communities.

To stay up to date on this story and others, please subscribe to our newsletter.