From left to right: Premier John Horgan, leader of the B.C. NDP; B.C. Liberal Party leader, Andrew Wilkinson; and B.C. Green Party leader, Sonia Furstenau. Photo courtesy of the respective political parties.

What’s at stake for Indigenous kids in care this provincial election?

We analyzed party platforms and reached out to the leaders of B.C.’s three major political parties

Heading into the Oct. 24 B.C. provincial election, we wanted to know how the three major parties plan to address issues impacting Indigenous children and youth in care. IndigiNews asked party leaders for interviews to discuss commitments outlined in their platforms.

Only one leader made themselves available for a phone interview — Sonia Furstenau, the leader of the B.C. Green Party. The B.C. NDP sent a statement from Premier John Horgan and answers to our questions via email. We did not receive a response from the B.C. Liberals, so we have included information gathered from the party’s platform. 

On implementing UNDRIP

In November 2019, under the NDP’s leadership, B.C. became the first province to pass legislation to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Known as DRIPA (Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act), the purpose of the legislation is to mandate government to bring provincial laws into harmony with UNDRIP, according to the province.

A spokesperson for the B.C. NDP told IndigiNews via email that if reelected, the party will create a “dedicated Secretariat” to ensure new legislation on policies are consistent with UNDRIP, “including child welfare legislation and policy.”

In the B.C. Liberals’ platform, there is a single mention of UNDRIP: it says that the Liberals will “work to clearly define how UNDRIP relates to land use decisions and existing case law regarding title held by Indigenous peoples and the right to self-determination.” The Liberals do not address how UNDRIP relates to Indigenous child welfare in B.C. 

In the B.C. Green Party platform, the party commits to creating an action plan to implement DRIPA, underscoring the need for “urgent action” in specific areas, including child welfare.

On Indigenous child welfare policy and jurisdiction

According to a spokesperson for the NDP, under the party’s leadership, the provincial government has made practice changes to the Child, Family and Community Services Act (CFCSA Act), including greater information sharing and involvement by Indigenous communities in child welfare matters. The party also supported Bill C-92, a federal bill that spurred heavy criticism, which recognizes First Nations, Inuit and Métis jurisdiction over child and family services. 

In addition, the B.C NDP says they have entered, along with the federal government, into separate tripartite agreements with the Cowichan Tribes, the Wet’suwet’en Nation and the Secwépemc Nation on child welfare jurisdiction. And it signed a joint commitment with the Métis Nation of B.C (MNBC) in 2018 to work together toward Métis authority over child welfare for their children and families.

If re-elected, the B.C. NDP says it will partner with individual First Nations to exercise their jurisdiction over child and family services according to their own cultures and traditions. 

Over the phone, B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau said “the provincial government’s role is to support communities to get their own legislation in place, their own supports in place, and to move away from this colonial system.”

On supporting Indigenous families

During the leaders debate on Oct. 13, Furstenau said: “We are still removing Indigenous children from their families at the same rate as during the residential school era.” 

Over the phone to IndigiNews, she says the practices of the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) towards Indigenous families is “very obvious systemic racism.” 

And for parents who feel they’ve been harmed by the system, the complaints process is “essentially ineffective,” she says. Furstenau recalled following up on one parent’s complaint about MCFD and finding that there was “no recognition that practice standards had absolutely been violated.” 

“Over the 3.5 years we’ve seen, you know, this kind of relentless evidence of how the system is really failing Indigenous families and children and communities,” says Furstenau.

When asked what the B.C. Green Party will do for Indigenous families, she says: “To me it comes back to recognizing that First Nations communities are going to best know what they need. We have to shift to being in a relationship that says we recognize the historical harm and our role now is to say ‘you tell us what you need’”.

In the B.C. Liberals’ platform, there is no mention of how the party will specifically support Indigenous families, other than a commitment to work collaboratively with the First Nations Health Authority to “eliminate systemic racism from the health care system.”

On supports for youth from care

In 2017, the B.C. NDP initiated a tuition waiver program, which waives the cost of tuition for students in B.C. who are former youth in care between the ages of 19 and 27. 

In an email to IndigiNews, Premier John Horgan wrote that if re-elected he will expand the program to all former youth in care regardless of age — “recognizing that the lack of family support can have long-term impacts on people who have aged out of care.”

On Sept. 20, shortly before the snap provincial election was called, the B.C. NDP announced that it was extending support for youth in and from government care, enabling them to stay where they are with support during the pandemic. It also promised “extra support” to those who have recently aged out of care.

The B.C. Liberals’ platform, says the party will “extend supports to foster children to age 25,” but doesn’t specify what kind of supports. Neither the B.C. Green Party nor the B.C Liberals mention the tuition waiver program in their platforms.

On Building Relationships with Indigenous Youth

Furstenau says she has made a point of inviting youth, including Indigenous youth, to spend the day with her at the Legislature.  

“I really want to encourage [the youth] to see themselves there and to recognize that we need their perspectives and their experience if we are going to make better decisions, She says.”

A spokesperson from the B.C. NDP says that MCFD minister Katrine Conroy meets regularly with youth in the Indigenous youth internship program and supports Fostering Change’s annual Youth Advocacy Day. Fostering Change is a campaign that seeks to change public policy for youth aging out of care. 

How do I vote?

Voting day is Saturday, Oct. 24. Visit Elections BC for information on where to go and what to bring.