Sts’ailes First Nation’s ceremonial signing of child and family services agreement put on hold by feds

The Sts’ailes First Nation in B.C. says the ceremonial signing of an agreement with the provincial and federal governments covering its jurisdiction over child and family services has been put on hold.

The event had been intended to be a ceremonial signing after more than three years of negotiation.

“Today, after more than a century of historic disruption, Sts’ailes is asserting its unbroken and inherent right to care for our children and families according to our own laws and cultural practices,” said Chief Sah-ahkw Ralph Leon Jr.

“Our children are our most precious resource and, by assuming responsibility for their care, we are ensuring that they grow up with the love, support, and connection to their culture that they deserve.”

One month before the scheduled signing, Canada reneged on its commitment to meet agreed upon deadlines for execution, and provided no timeline for when it would be ready to finalize it.

Sts’ailes Grand Chief Chasta Willie Charlie, Chief Negotiator, says because of this hold, it leaves them severely underfunded and forces them to self-fund their child and family services without government support.

“After three years of negotiating in good faith, Sts’ailes is extremely disappointed in the Government of Canada’s decision not to respect the previously agreed-upon deadlines for completing the Coordination Agreement,” said Charlie.

Despite the federal government not signing, the First Nation signed and proceeded with the ceremony, emphasizing their inherent right to care for their children and families.

Thelesiya Anna Charlie, executive director, Snowoyelh Department, Sts’ailes, says the agreement is more than transferring service delivery from the federal and provincial governments to Sts’ailes, but rather replacing it altogether.

“This agreement will support the replacement of the current system, which we know isn’t working, with a new model that is rooted in Sts’ailes law and ensures that our children and families receive culturally appropriate services,” she said.

Terry L. Cross (Seneca), Founder of National Indian Child Welfare Association, says Sts’ailes is a leader internationally in Indigenous child and family services, and the agreement should be celebrated — not put on hold.

“Their tireless and good faith work to negotiate a tripartite agreement with the governments of B.C. and Canada should be celebrated and not thwarted by governments that have already failed First Nations children and families. The delay in signing the agreement by the government of Canada and B.C. makes no sense and is deeply disappointing,” he said.

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