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Vancouver Island First Nation votes to reclaim authority over child and family services

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A Vancouver Island First Nation has voted to reclaim full authority over child and family services for its members.

The Cowichan Tribes published the results of their vote on the Snuw’uy’ulhtst tu Quw’utsun Mustimuhw u’ tu Shhw’a’luqw’a’ i’ Smun’eem – "The Laws of the Cowichan People for Families and Children" – Saturday.

The law passed with 83 per cent of voters in favour, according to the nation.

A total of 416 votes were cast, with voting held online beginning Nov. 10 and in person on Friday. Most of the votes – 277 – were cast online, with 139 ballots cast in person.

The Cowichan Tribes have around 5,000 members.

The law is intended to ensure that children within the Cowichan Tribes community won't end up in the provincial foster care system.

If a child does need to be removed from their family home, the law would see them remain close to home, most likely with a stable relative.

“Don’t put them into stranger care,” said Chief Lydia Hwitsum of the Cowichan Tribes in an interview with CTV News before voting began earlier this month.

“Find a way to find supports within our families and our communities to provide that care.”

The process of developing a new law that would take back authority over child and family services began in October 2020, when the federal government passed a law enabling such changes, according to a news release from the Cowichan Tribes.

The B.C. government passed similar enabling legislation late last year, and in March the Splatsin First Nation in the north Okanagan reached B.C.'s first agreement on co-ordination of care for Indigenous children. That agreement was just the fifth in Canada. 

The Cowichan Tribes described their process as "three years of intense community engagement and collaboration with elders and citizens." 

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