Separate aboriginal child protection law a possibility

Children and Family Development Minister Mary Polak has said her government is "open" to introducing separate child protection legislation for aboriginal peoples that will be developed in collaboration with them. In an exclusive interview with Public Eye last Friday, the minister denied such a move would lead to one child protection standard for aboriginals and another for non-aboriginals. Instead, she said the government wants to "enable" First Nations "to develop their own child and family serving systems based on their traditional practices. And that may, in fact, mean we need separate legislation in order to allow for that."

"Instead of saying we have to find a governance structure that's going to fit all across the province, what we're saying is we recognize that what we're doing is nation-to-nation discussions," the minister continued.

"And if some nations want to go the delegated agency route great; if some nations want to make individual agreements with us, great; if they want to join together in a region like they have in the Stikine, then that's great too."

The minister's statements come more than two years after a Campbell administration effort to introduce legislation that would have established regional aboriginal authorities to deliver child welfare services. That plan was aborted after First Nations went public with complaints they hadn't been consulted about the legislation.

Ms. Polak also stressed a separate aboriginal Child, Family and Community Service Act isn't a certainty if such legislation "doesn't appear to be the best way" of allowing First Nations to develop their own child and family serving systems.

"The fundamental piece is that, philosophically, we recognize and accept that they have an inherent jurisdiction over their kids and their families," she added. "And we are looking to forward that in whatever way that works for different nations."

Word about the possibility of separate legislation has been circulating since the minister's deputy Lesley du Toit brought up the issue last week during a three-day gathering of aboriginal child and family services organizations at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa.

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