Aboriginal Child Welfare in British Columbia and Unequal Power Relations: A Critical Discourse Analysis

By Holyk, Dr Travis; Harder, Dr Henry G. | Canadian Review of Social Policy, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Aboriginal Child Welfare in British Columbia and Unequal Power Relations: A Critical Discourse Analysis


Holyk, Dr Travis, Harder, Dr Henry G., Canadian Review of Social Policy


Introduction

In November 2013, the Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, released a Special Report entitled When Talk Trumped Service: A Decade of Lost Opportunity for Aboriginal Children and Youth in B.C. The purpose of the Report is noted as the Representative's review of Aboriginal child welfare services in B.C. and the Report has major implications for the development of policy and practice. The Ministry of Children and Family Development accepted the Report as presented, resulting in potential reactionary shifts in Aboriginal child welfare policy in the province of British Columbia. Reactions included pulling specific contracts such as the Indigenous Approaches, which were geared toward First Nations developing community-based approaches to child welfare, and shifting policy without a critical assessment of the Report.

The Report is seemingly about challenging Aboriginal child welfare policy and practice in order to improve the lives of Aboriginal children. While many of the recommendations may be useful and are in fact supported by First Nations organizations (Ktunaxa Nation, 2013), by looking at the Report through the lens of dominant discourses and unequal power relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples, the Report becomes a "corrosive means for the exertion of power" (Liasidou, 2011, p.890). By excluding Aboriginal peoples, more specifically Delegated Aboriginal Agencies and First Nations responsible for child welfare in community, from the dialogue, the Report privileges those who hold institutional power, thus replicating the arrangement of domination and subordination that has marked Aboriginal non-Aboriginal relations throughout the colonization process. The Representative's judgements on Aboriginal leadership through a pseudo-scientific lens support this historical view of Aboriginal people as deviant and unable to make decisions or care for themselves.

This article analyses a number of rhetorical devices used by the Representative in her report, including language, financial data, charts and graphs that reinforce domination of Aboriginal peoples and potentially undermine their efforts toward self-determination in child welfare. As Said indicates, "the power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism" (Said 1993, p.xiii).

This article also addresses a larger socio-political issue and the competing values that arise when attempts are made to share power, specifically the right of First Nations to be self-determining around the welfare of their children, while still being delegated by the federal and provincial government. The province of British Columbia, through provincial child welfare legislation (MCFD, 2016), maintains the responsibility for ensuring the safety of all children. As noted in the Delegation Conformation Agreement (MCFD, 2011) between Delegated Aboriginal Agencies and the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development, the Director, by virtue of the Child Family and Community Service Act (MCFD, 2016), has legislative authority with respect to the protection of children and the provision of Services to children and families in British Columbia. While First Nations that have entered into agreements to become Delegated Aboriginal Agencies, in the same Delegation Confirmation Agreement, First Nations assert that they "have never relinquished their inherent right and responsibility to care for and protect their children and families in a manner that respects and preserves their culture and heritage" (MCFD, 2011, p.6). The B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development, through provincial legislation and the delegation process, establishes a contractor relationship with Delegated Aboriginal Agencies to implement programs, and there appears to be dissonance between how each party views the relationship.

Socio-Political and Historical Context

Understanding the socio-political and historical context of Aboriginal/Non Aboriginal relations is critical to any discussion of Aboriginal peoples' right to be self-determining. …

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