Solomon Reece spent a decade in Vancouver before being elected as a councillor to the Key First Nation in Saskatchewan last year.
While he remained connected to his First Nation, Reece was raised on a Gulf Island off the West Coast and said going from B.C. to his new position took some adjustment.
“I really acknowledge my privilege in terms of growing up in an urban centre and having access to good quality health care, access to clean water, the quality of the education,” Reece said.
“It’s been a very eye-opening and humbling experience for me as a councillor, coming from this very, frankly, urbanized and very affluent city to now going to what are the front lines of colonization.”
Reece is one of many members of the Key nation who was raised off-reserve but remained with his family.
Other children of the nation have been taken from their families and placed in government care, including Noelle O’Soup, who, at 13, disappeared from a B.C. group home only to be found dead a year later.
In the wake of her death, the Key First Nation chose Vancouver as a location symbolic of the suffering of Indigenous youth in care for the consultation process to begin on child welfare reforms.
Indigenous children in government care across the country end up suffering in provincial welfare systems, cut off from their families, communities and culture, Reece said at a news conference on Tuesday.
“And I might also say that the government worked very hard to eliminate our culture. Now, it needs to work even harder to help us to restore it,” Reece said.
First Nations children taken from their families
Chief Clinton Key said a big step in mending their community is reforming a system that sees many First Nations children taken from their families.
The federal government changed the law in 2020, allowing Indigenous communities to exercise jurisdiction over child and family services, while Ottawa established national minimum standards.
Reece said the First Nation is hopeful that provincial governments in B.C. and elsewhere will work “proactively” to draft new laws addressing their litany of concerns.
The Key First Nation, he said, is particularly focused on self-governance legislation in B.C. that doesn’t address the needs of “extraprovincial” First Nations that have members spread across the country.
Reece said collaboration between First Nations and provincial governments is paramount to reforming a system that has seen many Indigenous children die in care while leaving families and their communities with “no answers.”
Call to address systemic failures in child welfare
Key told the news conference his nation is proud to take its first steps to control its own child and welfare services.
“We plan to develop a new law that upholds the ancient human right to care for and raise our children to be reflections of who we are, of our ancestors and our teachings.”
It comes after the Key First Nation sent a letter to Premier David Eby on Monday expressing “heartbreak and outrage” at the loss of O’Soup while she was in B.C.’s child welfare system.
The letter outlined the nation’s grave concerns about the B.C. government’s inaction on the teen’s disappearance and death and calls on the government to address systemic failures that compromised the girl’s safety and her family’s access to information.
“Our community is devastated by the tragic death of Noelle and outraged at the inaction of police and the [Ministry of Children and Family Development] inadequately investigating her death and bringing closure to her case,” Key told the news conference.
“Her family deserves closure.”
The girl’s body was found inside a Downtown Eastside rooming house, and while the tenant of the room was found dead inside in February of 2021, officers initially missed the remains of O’Soup and another woman, who were also in the room.
‘Torn apart by a system’
The letter to Eby said the disparity between outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children in government care needs to be identified and changed.
Indigenous children are disproportionately overrepresented in B.C.’s child and family services system, comprising less than 10 per cent of the child population yet representing 68 per cent of the children in care.
“Too many of our families have been torn apart by a system that does not meet their best interests,” Key said.
“We believe that there is another way.”
Key said the First Nation can’t fix the system alone, and co-operation with provincial governments is paramount to moving forward with a new self-governing system that doesn’t see Indigenous kids put into non-Indigenous care.
For Reece, child welfare systems in Canada reflect the “intergenerational impacts” of the country’s colonial past.
He said he’s the first in three generations of his family to be raised by his own parents; his mother was taken in the ’60s Scoop, while his father was a residential school survivor.
“It’s not lost on me just again, the privilege that I’ve enjoyed in terms of having a loving, cultural home and two parents who did their work, their emotional work, to provide the best parenting to me possible,” he said.
“For our community members, there’s a lot of need, a lot of need for healing, a lot of need for resources, and access to a better life, and that starts with some policy, but also tangible reforms.”