Saskatchewan First Nation leaders start talks over child welfare in B.C.

Warning: This story contains details that may upset and trigger some readers. 

Leaders of a Saskatchewan First Nation are in Vancouver to launch plans to take over control of child welfare services for its members.

It comes as the Key First Nation sent a letter to Premier David Eby expressing “heartbreak and outrage” at the loss of one of its teenage members while they was in British Columbia’s child welfare system.

The nation says it chose to start consultations in Vancouver to honour Noelle O’Soup, a 13-year-old member of its nation who disappeared from a B.C. group home in 2021 and whose remains were found in the city nearly a year later.

The letter says the nation has grave concerns about the B.C. government’s inaction on the teen’s disappearance and death, and it calls on the government to address systemic failures that compromised the O’Soup’s safety and their family’s access to information.

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The Office of the Representative for Children and Youth in B.C. told Global News Noelle went by “Elli” and used they/them pronouns. Global News has chosen to follow this except for in direct quotes from family.

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O’Soup’s body was found inside a Downtown Eastside rooming house and while the tenant of the room was found dead inside in February of last year, officers initially missed the remains of O’Soup and a woman, who was also in the room.

The letter to Eby says the disparity between outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous children in government care that led to this tragic outcome needs to be identified and changed.

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.

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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.

The letter says there was a concerning lack of transparency from law enforcement and the BC Coroners Service, leaving O’Soup’s family and the nation with many unanswered questions.

“As Chief and Council, we are taking our first steps to assert our natural jurisdiction of our children,” the letter says. “We no longer have faith in (the ability of governments across Canada) to protect our children, who are our future.”

Anyone affected by the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQI+ people needing support can call a national toll free crisis line at 1-844-413-6649.

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