Tcwesétmentem child welfare agreement makes B.C. history

·3 min read

British Columbia makes history with a first-of-its-kind child welfare agreement, signed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and Simpcw/Secwépemc First Nation on Apr. 12. Secwepemctsín is the traditional Shuswap language of the Simpcw/Secwépemc people. The new child welfare agreement is called Tcwesétmentem (pronounced Twa-set-men-tem) and translates to English as “walking together.” The name was championed by language expert and Simpcw Elder, Mona Jules PhD, with the assistance of Simpcw Language Manager, Charli Fortier. The agreement Tcwesétmentem embodies the unique practices, laws, customs and even traditions of the Simpcw/Secwépemc First Nation.

“I feel a great sense of pride after a long journey with the Ministry of Children and Family Development to reach this agreement. I felt our ancestors guided us in the creation of this new relationship that significantly changes practice and ensures our Nation’s support for the well-being of our members across British Columbia,” said Kúkpi7 (Chief) Shelly Loring in an Apr. 12 press release. “This interim measure marks a significant milestone on our pathway toward implementing our inherent jurisdiction. I am especially pleased that our laws, customs and traditions are enshrined in this legally binding agreement through the meaningful inclusion of our Secwepemctsín.”

This agreement unlike any other recognizes elements of the Federal Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children as well as youth and families. It will inform child welfare decision making and ensure that the Simpcw First Nation is involved in the protection, planning and placement of all Simpcw/Secwépemc children and youth who encounter the child welfare system. The Simpcw and the Ministry will work together on plans of independence, care assessments and investigations including the decision as to where children and youth will be placed. The aim of this is to support the well-being of Simpcw families. A Simpcw community designate will be involved with child welfare practice decisions and to ensure a Simpcw worldview and cultural continuity are incorporated.

“It is our commitment to work with Indigenous communities to honour and affirm their inherent right to support and protect their children and families in ways that are aligned with their Nation’s beliefs, cultural practices, traditions and laws,” said Mitzi Dean, Minister of Children and Family Development in an Apr 12 news release. “This new community agreement is the result of intensive consultation to understand the needs of the community in relation to their history and cultural heritage and will shape how the ministry and Simpcw First Nation work together on child-welfare issues now and into the future.”

It was a journey that lasted longer than two years between the Ministry and the Simpcw/Secwépemc First Nation, one of patience, dialogue, and negotiation. The signing of Tcwesétmentem took place in a ceremony preceded by opening prayers. Children from the Neqweyqwelsten school did traditional drumming and sang. When history is made like this it opens a door for other First Nations in B.C. to develop their own agreements with the ministry that speaks to them, and their culture and ways of life.

Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer

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