In the April of 2022, NIȽ TU,O began a year-long Substantive Equality Pilot Project, which provides increased resources to address systemic issues impacting the wellbeing of Coast Salish families and children.

As a Coast Salish-run organization, NIȽ TU,O’s services centers caregiving that moves away from colonial practices and instead ethically upholds Coast Salish oral history, teachings and Natural laws.

There is a long and storied history of systemic issues that have disproportionately impacted Indigenous families, often to the detriment of their children. With this in mind, the Substantive Equality Project is an extension of the Family Strengthening Services the organization currently provides and offers enhanced levels of preventative resources to support families, well before interventions are needed.

“This pilot project allows us to work to remedy issues that would not exist if it weren’t for colonialism. While it’s not an ideal situation, we are pleased to be able to work to rectify injustices that should have been addressed 150 years ago. As a result of this program, we are already starting to see positive impacts on children’s wellbeing in the communities.”  said Leslie-Ann Paige, Coast Salish Initiatives at NIȽ TU,O.

The shift towards prevention-based initiatives was recommended by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy (IFSD) after its evaluation of Indigenous Services Canada’s (ISC) Child and Family Services. The report asserts that a preventive approach creates a trickle down effect, taking a holistic approach to address the root causes of family structure breakdowns.

Systemic issues like poverty or lack of proper housing, are so often the reason Indigenous children in British Columbia end up in care. Other side effects of trauma and colonialism, such as early involvement with the criminal justice system and substance abuse and health issues, also contribute to the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care, which can be curbed with the project’s prevention measures.

According to a report developed by IFSD in 2020, the 2011 census revealed 74% of First Nations homes on-reserve were in need of repair. The report also showed that nearly half of First Nations experience food insecurity, in addition to 29% not having access to piped water in their homes. The pilot project was developed to address many of these issues that can have lasting impact on changing the trajectory of Indigenous people’s lives.

This pilot project aims to address systemic issues like these before families are further harmed by interactions with MCFD. To receive resources from this initiativet, assessments and requests go through NIȽ TU,O’s Family and Support Workers. Then, together the family and NIȽ TU,O staff will develop a plans unique to each the family’s needs including support for homecare, cleanliness resources, renovations and more..

NIȽ TU,O serves seven South Island Coast Salish Nations including Beecher Bay/ Scianew, Pauquachin, Tsartlip, Songhees, Tsawout, Tseycum and T’sou-ke First Nations. The organization has two streams of services – voluntary Family Strengthening Programs which provides resources for maintaining child wellbeing and delegated services, which were taken over from the provincial Ministry of Child and Family Services.

The first stream of services include referrals, small scale renovations and providing household appliances. The Substantive Equality Pilot Project means more funding for NIȽ TU,O’s existing services, strengthening the existing care framework for the Coast Salish families NIȽ TU,O serves

Though in its early days, the pilot project has already had a positive impact on clients. By addressing experiences of housing and poverty the risk to children is minimized and the ability for families to look beyond their basic needs is strengthened. In these cases, NIȽ TU,O was able to supply replacements for furniture lost in flooding, provide extensive pest removal, build a fence around the home to create a safer outdoor space for children and add a third bedroom to support the reunification of a family. Previous limitations did not allow the organisation to provide this type of assistance, meaning more Coast Salish children and families will now have opportunities to access these preventative resources.

The project ends in March 2023, with NIȽ TU,O hoping to provide the ISC with rationale and documentation about how the initiative works, as well as the ways it aligns with the new Measuring to Thrive framework. This framework laid out by the IFSD challenges current systems that reinforce the barriers Indigenous children and families face to a high quality of life.

Measuring to Thrive framework includes approaches to funding and supports that remedy issues like access to resources to meet daily needs, cultivating healthy living conditions, sustaining connection to Coast Salish cultural practices and overall child development. These issues are often at the foundation of many child protection cases, which can be addressed well before they are escalated.

New investigations have unearthed the Canadian government’s treatment of Indigenous children, which directly impacts the the work NIȽ TU,O does with on-reserve nations. This also accounts for the shift towards the pilot project’s prevention-based approach. In June 2019, the federal government passed Bill C-92, an act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families.

This legislation was developed alongside Indigenous Peoples, ensuring Canadian law reflects the right of Indigenous communities to have partial or full control over child and family services. Principles like the best interests of the child, cultural continuity, and substantive equality will be incorporated into child and family services across Canada.

In March 2021, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal acknowledged the need to increase funding for services accessed by children and families living on-reserve. Creating more prevention activities was included as a priority, ensuring more children and families remain together.

Though the government has historically contributed to systemic discrimation of Indigenous children and families, the creation of new funding streams have paved the way for the transformational impact the Substantive Equality Pilot Project will have.

The Substantive Equality Pilot Project is a first-of-its-kind for NIȽ TU,O and will provide invaluable resources to the Coast Salish community. By focusing on prevention-based initiatives, the organization can now take proactive approaches to remedying systemic issues and supporting families with support, well before the intervention stage.

This change in programming structure provides strategies to address the lived realities of Indigenous children and families. It also provides NIȽ TU,O with more opportunities to work within frameworks that interrupt barriers created by colonization and begins to remedy the system–wide funding shortfalls that have greatly impacted the work NIȽ TU,O is able to do to support Coast Salish families. The Substantive Equality Pilot Project is a promising initiative on the road to building stronger, more healthy First Nations families.

This project is guided by the ever growing needs of Coast Salish families. To learn more, please connect with your Family Support or contact Social Services Workers at NIȽ TU,O by calling 250 544 1400 and ask for Confidential Intake.