Reviving Secwepemc child welfare jurisdiction




Sandy, Nancy Harriet

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Indigenous Nations, like the Secwepemc, look to their Creation Story to describe how we came to be on our land. The Creation Stories describe and define who we are as Indigenous Peoples living with laws which guide our conduct among each other and with others. The Creation Stories of each of the Indigenous Nations, and the Secwepemc Nation, is our Constitution. These Constitutions speak to the powers and authorities that are exercisable by those within the Secwepemc Nation, like the St’exelcemc. The family units are the foundation of the St’exelcemc. For the purposes of this thesis, these family units, individually and collectively, exercise the powers and authorities over St’exelcemc child safety. For a long time now, the St’exelcemc child safety laws have been eroded by federal and provincial authority to make it seem like the St’exelcemc abide only by state child welfare law. This thesis sets aside this Canadian legal mythology and demonstrates the continued exercise of St’exelcemc child safety laws despite their erosion by state law. And, this thesis is also about the necessity of reviving and revitalizing the customs, traditions and practices of the St’exelcemc in every area of our lives as a nation-building movement. In order to achieve this vision it is important to draw on the ‘living sources’ to help identify and define these laws. In this thesis, the St’exelcemc child safety laws are drawn from the stories and memories of St’exelcemc living sources, the Elders and Junior Elders, who are transmitting their knowledge for the benefit of the stsmémelt and im7imts of future generations. The legal concepts and principles of structure, observation, discipline, stories, listening, respect, sharing, helping, spirituality and silence are captured in the Secwepemc term ctk’wenme7iple7ten which means law or rule. The literal translation of ctk’wenme7iple7ten is “all the law, all the power one might have.” Custom adoption is one special area of St’exelcemc family law which is a familiar and demonstrable exercise of St’exelcemc jurisdiction in the area of child safety. St’exelcemc custom adoption ensured the safety of children: by tradition where they were placed with grandparents as a form of old age security, endurance of the traditional economy, and transmission of cultural and traditional knowledge; in the event of a marital breakdown, neglect, or abandonment; and where a couple may have been unable to conceive, or where the birth father gave up his parental responsibilities. Custom adoption also played a major role in maintaining the hereditary lineage for the governance of the St’exelcemc, which continued until 1958. The St’exelcemc law of banishment for the safety of children and families is implemented today by deliberation at general band meetings and band councils meetings, and formally recorded in band council resolutions. This revival and revitalization of child safety law is essential for St’exelcemc individuals, family and government to ‘put things right’ for the health and well-being future generations – like Coyote and Old One did in the Secwepemc Creation Story.



Jurisdiction, Revival, Secwepemc Law, Child Welfare