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B.C. First Nation votes to take over child services for its residents

About 100 children who are members of Cowichan Tribes are currently covered under provincial laws
The Cowichan Tribes Administration office located in Duncan, B.C., is shown on Tuesday, January 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

British Columbia’s largest First Nation has voted to take over authority of child and family services for its residents.

Results of a vote held by the Cowichan Tribes show 83 per cent of the 416 citizens who cast ballots were in favour of the new law that would prioritize supports to keep children with their families or place them with relatives or in other Indigenous homes.

Negotiator Robert Morales, who helped develop the new law, says the vote represents a significant step in the self-determination of the Cowichan people and the ability to decide what’s in the best interests of their children.

The Cowichan Tribes, which has about 5,300 members and is based on Vancouver Island, have been negotiating for years with the federal and provincial governments on what the transition will look like.

Morales says those negotiations are expected to wrap up by January and the Cowichan Tribes are hoping to take over by April 2024.

He says there are about 100 children who are members of Cowichan Tribes currently covered under provincial laws.

Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum said in a statement ahead of the vote that ratifying the law means keeping families together in a way that reflects the community’s teachings and ways of being.

“We are at a defining moment in our history, with the opportunity at our fingertips to chart a happy, healthy, and culturally-rich future for our smun’eem, our children,” she said.

READ ALSO: Indigenous people to have greater control over child welfare under new B.C. legislation