Sheila Schmidt

Sheila Schmidt

‘Tears of joy’ as Sto:lo celebrate child care agency

A ceremony to celebrate the creation of a revamped Sto:lo child protection agency was held Thursday at The Landing Sports Centre in Chilliwack.

A ceremony to celebrate the creation of a revamped Sto:lo child protection agency was held Thursday at The Landing Sports Centre in Chilliwack.

But it appears the agency – which still carries the Xyolhmeylh name of the earlier version – is not supported by all Sto:lo communities, and it may not lead to a healing of the political rift that split the Sto:lo into two camps, the Sto:lo Nation and the Sto:lo Tribal Council.

Differences over child protection as delivered by Xyolhmeylh was one of the main factors in the 2004 break-up, and differences over child apprehension policy remain.

Sheila Schmidt, president of the newly-created Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society, which now operates the Xyolhmeylh agency, would not comment on that policy Thursday, saying it is a political issue and the board is a non-political body.

“Today, we’re celebrating moving forward,” she said. “Today, we’re celebrating the passing of the reins from the ministry to the Fraser Valley.”

In 2007, the B.C. Children and Families Ministry took over day-to-day operations of the troubled agency, but on Dec. 17 last year, a delegation enabling agreement was signed by provincial and federal officials that returned control of Xyolhmeylh back into the hands of the aboriginal community.

Deb Foxcroft, assistant deputy minister at the children’s ministry, said the agreement that will allow the Sto:lo to provide care for their own children, as well as those from other aboriginal groups like the Metis and “urban” children living off-reserve, was “a long time coming.”

“There’s been a lot of blood and sweat and tears to get to this place,” she said. “Now we shed tears of joy.”

She said aboriginal children will get care based on their own culture and traditions.

“This is where children belong, and this is where they need to be,” she said.

Barb Walsh, the ministry’s Fraser region representative, said the board was an “inspiration” for its “vision” and its hard work turning the vision into reality.

“You’ve created a vision and developed a vision and worked toward a vision,” she said. “It’s been a remarkable thing to watch.”

“The vision for delivering services to children and families in the territory is in very capable hands,” she said.

Lawrence Roberts, a Tzeachten First Nation councillor and Sto:lo representative on the board, said, “it’s really good to know our aboriginal people are finally taking control of the children again.”

He said the best way for aboriginal children to find their identity is through their own culture and traditions.

“We’re building a stronger foundation for our children,” he said.

Cole McGillivary, executive director of the board, introduced Joanne Jefferson, the in-coming president of the society as Schmidt is leaving at the end of May.

Schmidt was wrapped in a Sto:lo blanket at the end of the Thursday ceremony, and given the last word to the audience of Xyolhmeylh staff and ministry officials.

“We have gone through so many challenges … political issues, transition issues, but we pulled together and we achieved governance,” she said.

But the staff are the “backbone” of the agency, she added, and she urged them to leave the past behind and continue to work toward the future.

“We are in a good place now, and we all need to look forward, not backwards,” she said. “Let’s work together to build this agency stronger than ever.”

rfreeman@theprogress.com