BC Métis Federation Response to Broken Promises: Alex’s Story

British Columbia Métis Communities
BC Métis Federation Members

Re: BC Métis Federation Response to Broken Promises: Alex’s Story

Dear partners and members,

This week the Métis community was once again shown the consequences when government policies and programs intended to support our people have no real meaning. British Columbians were jolted from their complacency on Tuesday by a damning report about events surrounding the death of Métis teenager in care Alex Gervais entitled, Broken Promises: Alex’s Story, released by B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth. Acting Representative for Children and Youth Bernard Richard describes the death of Alex Gervais in 2015 as “an act of obvious desperation” after a lifetime of neglect and trauma.

The report further states, “the child welfare system failed to connect Alex to his Métis culture, despite the fact MCFD identified him as being Métis shortly after bringing him into care at age seven.”

BC Métis Federation asks how could this violence be practiced in Canada today toward Métis, even in the face of a worldwide movement toward reconciliation between setter societies and Indigenous nations? How could the government display such ignorance and neglect and lack of respect for Métis culture?

Readers may recall a recent news story last October in the evening news: ‘Taken by force’: Foster parents lose fight to keep Métis toddler. The Province forced “SS” to move to Ontario amidst clear concerns at the time from the Representative for Children and Youth that the decision “giving short shrift to indigenous culture…” The Métis case of SS was strongly fought by the BC Métis Federation on the grounds of customary adoption and cultural connection.

As well, news of Métis teenager Nick Lang’s tragic passing prompted a similar report released in October of last year stating the Métis teenager’s parents were unable to access suitable, culturally specific services to help address their youngest son’s escalating substance use problem.

Recall the CBC documentary entitled “Cry from the Diary of a Métis Child”, which documented the story of a Métis child, Richard Cardinal in 1986. This illustrated clearly that lack of respect for Métis culture is nothing new. They also had an ‘inquiry’ after this tragedy.

On a more fundamental level this latest report opens up conversations on Métis identity and the idea of “belonging.’ Notably the report goes on to state, “Had Alex been given a real opportunity to develop a strong cultural identity and a feeling of belonging with his Métis community, the outcome for him may well have been different.”

Questions arise such as ‘who determines who gets to belong? Who can be considered Métis to decide who is Métis? What does collective belonging in community look like?

For generations governments in Canada have sought to dominate the Métis-Canadian relationship and limit the narrative. More recently, governments have attempted to maintain exclusive political alliances with co-opted Métis organizations, whether political or service delivery to coerce policy. One may recall that in the case of “SS”, Métis agencies and organizations like Métis Nation BC (MNBC) were co-opted by the Province to support the removal of “SS” from family, culture and community without any due diligence and community accountability, a sham cultural plan.

The backstory is that this current BC government has long been in denial about the historical and contemporary presence and significance of Métis in BC ‘in their own right.’ They force historically unjustified and irresponsible policy statements such as, “The Province does not participate in “rights based” discussions with the Métis at this time.” They falsely deny Métis as a unique collective presence in BC and rely on ‘a priori’ or ‘originalist’ understandings dictated by the courts.

On the basis of stereotypes, governments make unprincipled policy with top-down Métis non-profit organizations like Métis Nation BC as in the recent enhanced Métis Nation Relationship Accord and they attempt to make backroom ‘deals’ without community consultation that does not enhance or protect the ‘historical uniqueness’ of communities, with policies that are not accountable to what is right/best for communities.

Time and time again MNBC leaders have acted with utter lack of ethics or judgement, acting in their own interests rather than that of the Métis people, families and communities they claim to represent, more notably in the recent “SS” case:

President Keith Henry of the BC Métis Federation stated at the time, “There is no doubt today that MCFD officials are not truthful. Worse yet we believe Métis organizations and agencies including the Métis Commission for Children and Families of BC, Island Métis Children and Family Services Society and Métis Nation British Columbia, who have supported this decision, did so without any real due diligence. MCFD provides an estimated $1 million annually to these 3 organizations per year and each of their input was to support this removal of our member from our community without any consultation to our community.”

The Province for its part has been hiding behind the courts and an abstract system of ‘rules’ and ‘laws’ but it is impossible to be Métis without practicing connectedness and belonging in a vibrant community. ‘Being Métis’ is a collective term. Along those lines, Indigenous law, according to academic and lawyer Aaron Mills, is not a system of rules but of relationships.

Mills opines, “Law is not about making rules that tell us what we must do, but it’s the kind of relationships we have and the judgements we have that govern our behaviors. Within each relationship, we have different responsibilities.”

Métis people belong to dynamic communities and relate in many different ways that defy “government legislation” or narrow technical terms like “compliance” but speak to broader issues of social/lived realities, kinship responsibilities and obligations, historical uniqueness and the inherent right to community self-determination and self-government.

Representative Bernard Richard echoed, “While the CFCS Act defines an “aboriginal child” in the context of child welfare practice in B.C., Alex’s cultural identity existed not because of legislation but by virtue of his family of origin, his history, his story and his connection to community and land. All of these powerful mechanisms exist outside of legislation. Legislation informs funding and practice, whereas cultural identity is intrinsic.”

As legal academic John Borrows states, “since the courts have been largely insensitive to Indigenous peoples’ lived realities, Indigenous leaders must ensure that their political agendas are not determined by the courts’ jurisprudence”.
Borrows states that “Aboriginal and treaty rights also directly implicate the health, safety and welfare of aboriginal people’s bodies. Aboriginal and treaty rights exist to promote and protect physical survival. The health, safety, and welfare of indigenous women is obviously relevant to a community’s past, present and future wellbeing. Thus, we must see section 35 (1) as including much broader protections – even if the courts are slow to do the same.”

In the recent “SS” case, the system supported by the Province and Métis organizations disregarded Métis customary law that is meant to restore, protect and enhance right relationships and have instead relied upon mainstream courts. The SS case pointed to the contempt for the BC Métis Federation’s right to self-govern and protect our members. In Alex’s case, any reference by caregivers to ‘legislation’ and ‘standards’ were, according to the report, simply ‘ignored’ or given ‘lip service’ with no accountability to community.

At this critical juncture, instead of ignorance and neglect and lack of respect we need to be asking how respect and generosity and mutual recognition can define the relationship:

  • Will the Provincial Government respond with more hollow words or they truly partner with all Métis communities to develop accountable and comprehensive ‘specific cultural plans’ for children in care?
  • Will the Provincial Government more effectively partner with all Métis communities to repatriate people into Métis communities?
  • Will the Provincial Government partner with Métis communities and nations to revitalize our culture, laws and knowledge that stand to benefit Métis and all Canadians?
  • Will the Provincial Government partner with all Métis communities and nations in ‘nation to nation’ negotiations on the basis of mutual recognition and sovereignty (land rights)?

If we were willing, we would admit that default Canadian traditions and assumptions guiding the Métis- Canadian relationship to this point have not been just, and that we are responsible as an entire country to repair the breach.

Many of our leaders have son’s similar in age to Alex, so this story hits close to home. This story demonstrates the worst-case scenario for our most precious resource in our communities, our Métis children.

We will never forget and we hope members read this report to better understand why BC Métis Federation is calling for major changes to the current Métis children and family services in BC. How many more Alex’s Stories do we need before we realize the current system and services are inadequate?

The fact that the Ministry of Children and Family Development has refused to properly engage all Métis representative organizations in BC only adds to the outrage of these situations.

We applaud the Representative for Children and Youth for sharing the truth of Alex’s Story. Now we need to do what is in the best interests for all Métis in BC.

[ilink url=”http://bcmetis.com/wp-content/uploads/BC-Metis-Federation-Response-Alexs-Story-February-8th-2017.pdf” style=”download”]Click here to view BCMF’s response to Alex’s Story as a downloadable PDF[/ilink]

[ilink url=”http://bcmetis.com/wp-content/uploads/RCY-Brokenpromises-Alex-Gervais-Story-Feb-2017-.pdf” style=”download”]Click here to view the RCY Brokenpromises Alex Gervais Story as a downloadable PDF[/ilink]

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