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FamilyConnections The BC Council for Families Magazine  Winter 2012

 first nations focus 

Family Time

pg. 14

Justice System vs Families pg. 8

review: first nations 101 tons of stuff you need to know pg. 5

Focus on Aboriginal Education Needs to Include Families pg. 17

Council for Families


editor  Tina Albrecht art director  Tina Albrecht contributors Kathy Kendall, Nina Polkinghorne, Mary Courchene, Dawn Isaac, David Sheftel, Elaine Isaac, Marilee Peters subscriptions By membership with the BC Council for Families. Family Connections is published four times per year by the BC Council for Families. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Council, its members or funders. #208 – 1600 West 6th Ave Vancouver, bc v6J 1R3 t 604 678 8884 e Established in 1977, the BC Council for Families is a registered non-profit society. Registration #0488189-09-28 issn#1195-9428 officers of the society Sylvia Tremblay · President Paula Cayley · Vice President Marilee Peters · Acting Executive Director board of directors Gail Brown · Interior Connie Canam · Vancouver Coastal Paula Cayley · Vancouver Coastal Bella Cenezero · Fraser Deb Day · Island Tim Fairgrieve · Vancouver Coastal Kathy Kendall · Interior Lynn Locher · North John Thornburn · Fraser Katie Tichauer · Vancouver Coastal Sylvia Tremblay · Fraser Bev Wice · Interior Victor Zhou · Vancouver Coastal © 2011 BC Council for Families

2  Family Connections  Winter 2012

volume 15, issue 4  winter 2012

Focus 8 Justice vs Family Why legal aid matters to families – and why BC needs it back. Kathy Kendall 12 Family Time Personal healing journeys helped 3 generations of a First Nations family realize the importance of strengthening families to overcome a history of oppression. David Sheftel, with Mary Courchene, Dawn Isaac, & Elaine Isaac

Departments 3 From the Editor’s Desk 4 News & Notes Money, Moving, Mental Health … and More! 5 Toolbox First Nations 101 gives readers the who, what, when, and why of Canadian Aboriginal reality. 6 Connections Profile: Lynda Gray, author, activist and executive director of Vancouver’s Urban Native Youth Association. 16 Good to Know The data on First Nations demographics. Plus where to go to learn more. 17 The Final Word A national commission recommends changes to on reserve schools. Let’s not forget supports to families too.

From the Editor’s Desk

Yes, this is the winter issue of Family a family law practitioner, Kathy walks us Connections even though spring is just through the changes to service that have about to arrive on our doorsteps. We have been caused by years of cuts. had a very busy fall and winter here at the Council. As many of you may already After traveling to Winnipeg to attend the know, this fall we embarked on a most workshop First Nations Family Attachment daunting task. We sorted, culled, and Program: Issues and Relevance, our very then packed up 35 years of history. Yes, own certificated Canadian Family Educator you guessed it we have moved and are David Sheftel sat down with Mary very pleased with the outcome. Courchene, Dawn Isaac and Elaine Isaac to talk about the issue of attachment in While we were busy moving, we also First Nations families (pg 12). David says have had the opportunity to connect “Learning about the history of residential with a number of very interesting people, schools and their impact on families attend workshops and learn about new through the past seven generations was a programs and initiatives happening in BC powerful reminder of the work Canadian and beyond. It has been through these society and the helping profession needs connections that the inspiration for this to do to support First Nations families.“ First Nations focused issue of Family This comment begs the question: What Connections was born. kind of supports are we providing Aboriginal families? According to the National Panel on Aboriginal Education, In October, at our annual conference for which released its report, Nurturing the professionals working with families we Learning Spirit of First Nations Students, had the pleasure of first meeting Lynda early in February 2012, we aren’t doing Gray, Executive Director of Vancouver’s enough. All the details can be found in the Urban Native Youth Association and Final Word on page 18. author of the recent book First Nations 101. We were so intrigued by Lynda’s workshop that we wanted to talk with her In other exciting news Family Connections more. In this issue’s Connections profile has also gone paperless! That is right, we Lynda shares with us her inspiration for are now only available online. Think of all writing her book and insights into why the happy trees still standing in the forest it is so important for all those working because of us! We would love to hear with Aboriginal families to have a basic from you. Write and tell us your thoughts understanding of the realities that and reactions to what you read in these Canada’s First Nations people are facing pages. We’ll reprint your letters sent to (pg 6). in our upcoming issue. Also in this issue, one of our board members, Kathy Kendall, takes an extensive look into BC’s Legal Aid (pg 8). With years of experience working as Tina Albrecht, Editor

Winter 2012  Family Connections  3

News & Notes

bmo’s team of volunteers part of the united way’s day of caring

On the Move… After nearly a quarter-century in the same location, moving isn’t something you undertake lightly. Fortunately, with a lot of hard work by Council staff (and families!) and the help of a team of volunteers from BMO participating as part of the United Way’s Day of Caring, the Council’s recent move went exceptionally smoothly. Now enjoying their new digs at 208 -1600 West 6th Avenue, Council staffers would like to extend their heartfelt thanks to the spouses who lent tools, trucks, and time to the endeavour: thank you, Brian, Diego, and Tom. And to the team of BMO employees who have so generously given of their time to help us unpack countless boxes of files, restock our publications room, arrange (and rearrange) furniture, and construct shelving: you took us from empty rooms and a towering, overwhelming pile of boxes to a functioning office in less than a day. We’re so grateful for your energy, enthusiasm and determination! Our thanks go out as well to the United Way of the Lower Mainland, whose Day of Caring program, which matches employee teams to agencies needing help with large projects, made the participation of BMO employees possible.

Family Life – Certified David Sheftel has been a leader in BC’s family support and education field for over ten years – and now he has the paper to prove it. In the fall of 2011 David received his certification as a Canadian Family Educator, joining a select group of less than 100 family life educators across Canada to receive the designation. The Certified Canadian Family Educator, or CCFE program, is administered by Family Resource Programs of Canada, and is designed to raise the profile and standards of family education in Canada. David has been a program coordinator at 4  Family Connections  Winter 2012

the BC Council for Families since 2007, leading the Father Involvement Network of BC and the provincial Home Visitor Training Initiative, as well as training facilitators to deliver the Nobody’s Perfect parenting program. David’s diverse range of experience in family support includes working as a home visitor, facilitating parent groups, and delivering training workshops for parent educators in a wide range of programs and subject areas. He believes strongly in the importance and value of supporting families, especially fathers. We’re delighted that David has received this recognition from his peers and colleagues around the country, and joined the ranks of Certified Canadian Family Educators. Congratulations David! To find out about becoming a Certified Canadian Family Educator, check out the Parents Matter website, at

Money Matters Well, it’s official: Christmas is over. Time to put down the eggnog, take off the plush reindeer horns, and take a hard look at your credit card statements and bank balance. In the cold, clear light of a January morning, that’s often sobering enough to make many of us vow to make this the year when we become more fiscally responsible. If you’re among the recently-reformed, good news – help is on the way. With support from the TD Foundation, the BC Council for Families is developing a series of easy-to-use financial literacy resources for parent educators and other family support practitioners. Designed to give practitioners in community agencies a familiarity with financial literacy concepts and tools – budgeting, credit and consumerism, saving and investing – so that they can in turn inform and educate parents, the resources will be available online beginning in late spring. “Financial literacy training changed my life,” enthuses Khadijah Suleman, a financial

expert who is developing the project tools and workshop. “It doesn’t matter what your income level is – money affects us all, and knowing how to manage money is an absolutely critical skill for all of us.” A series of half-day workshops to help parent educators learn to use the tools and resources will be held in spring and fall 2012, in locations around BC.

Let’s Talk Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” mental health campaign is taking mental illness out of the shadows and into the bright light of day, with high profile advertising and upbeat imagery designed to erase the stigma of mental illness. With the help of a group of courageous, articulate young people, the BC Council for Families is proud to be part of the Let’s Talk campaign. The Council’s video documentary Left 2 Live, which follows the journey of several youth through grief and into healing in the aftermath of the suicides of friends and family members, will be brought to youth-serving organizations around BC this spring with the help of funding from “Let’s Talk”. And there’ll certainly be lots of talking, as youth workers, crisis counselors, and mental health workers come together to view the documentary and take part in facilitated discussions exploring how to support youth bereaved by suicide and reduce the risk of further adverse mental health impacts. “The film can be hard to watch,” admits David Sheftel, the family life educator who will be leading the discussions. “These youth have been through a lot, and they’re pretty frank about it. But it’s that honesty that makes Left 2 Live so valuable. It’s going to lead to a lot of great discussion, and ultimately I think it’ll change how people work with bereaved teens – for the better.”


reader reviews:

First Nations 101  

 Nina Polkinghorne

First Nations 101: Tons of stuff you need to know about First Nations people Adaawx Publishing, Vancouver Canada. 2011. Reading First Nations 101 by Lynda Gray has been an insightful pleasure. This is a highly accessible, academic text written in the first person with a determined voice of hope, clarity, and strength. With very concise and brief chapters, Ms. Gray offers the facts, her genuine point of view, relevant applications of this information, and a consistent focus on the future. The text begins at the beginning, before first contact, where the reader learns all manner of wisdom, strength, and ingenuity that First Nations people enjoyed as well as various structures of governance, and resource management. Ms. Gray uses a voice of encouragement here rather than one of anger or retribution; this is the past to preserve, reconcile, and bring forward into the context of the present. First Nations 101 consists of seven concise chapters: Identity, Social Control, Community Issues, Fairness & Justice, Health & Wellness, Arts, and The Road Forward: Forging a New Path – with subchapters within each. Most subchapters are a page or two long, giving a brief but potent overview of each topic and insight regarding impact and relevance. The events, dates, political acts, and atrocities of the more recent past are presented with care, respect, and sincerity. The tragic and horrifying interface between First Peoples and colonizing European nations is offered in a fresh and concise language. As with each chapter, the facts 

presented are brought back to a current relevance that encourages the reader to admit a contemporary participation in either the perpetuation of imposed governance and unhelpful stereotyping or the solution toward self realized governance and inclusive honoured status. Ms. Gray provides an abundance of reference material throughout but doesn’t allow the text to become bogged down with dates and events; each chapter has present relevance and applicability. Every aspect of past and present day life is touched on it seems, with an emphasis on forward movement, on future considerations, and learning from past mistakes. While the content can be very sobering, Ms. Gray intuitively includes humorous comic strips to create accessibility and familiarity. As a Family Support Worker I am most appreciative of the sections that offer insight regarding various challenges that contemporary First Nations people are up against and what approaches and considerations are effective in encouraging self reliance, drawing on cultural wisdom and strength and a clear hopeful vision for the future. As a previous student in First Nations studies I found the text clear and succinct, appropriate for university curriculum, most valuable and appreciated coming from a First Nations point of view. Our agency has decided to purchase copies of this book for our employees working with First Nations families. I have recommended it to our local school board, to have available for staff and high school

students. Hopefully it will find its way into high school curriculum along with more texts that represent history inclusively. First Nations 101 is a manifesto of hope. Reading it at a local coffee shop one weekend in Vancouver, having noticed the book, two women at the table beside me commented to one another about Lynda, her advocacy work, and her tireless spirit of pride and encouragement. Ms. Gray speaks from the first person as a representative and advocate, as a person impacted and a person motivated. Her spirit is indeed infectious and her message of hope timely. what have you been reading lately? If you’d like to share your impressions, contact to find out about submitting a reader review.

 Nina Polkinghorne

Nina Polkinghorne has been a Family Support Worker with the North Shore Neighbourhood House in the Young Parent Program for the past 4 1/2 years. She has been a young parent since the age of 16 in Vancouver, went to the Sir Charles Tupper YPP, and finished her education at SFU in anthropology/ sociology. Nina lives and works on the North Shore of Vancouver, and has 2 boys 15 and 22 yrs old.

Winter 2012  Family Connections  5


Profile: Lynda Gray Executive Director of Vancouver’s Urban Native Youth Association

Lynda Gray is the Executive Director of Vancouver’s Urban Native Youth Association, and the author of First Nations 101, a frankly written, often witty and frequently devastating overview of the history of Aboriginal peoples in Canada and guide to First Nations culture and modern realities. Self-published by Gray in the summer of 2011 (she named her newly-formed publishing house Adaawx — Tsimshian for “truthtelling”), First Nations 101 has already made it’s way onto many academic reading lists, and into the hands of teachers, students, and service providers throughout BC. The book is now a required text in Douglas College’s Child and Youth Care program, and it’s likely that more recommendations will follow. We asked Lynda Gray to share with us more about herself, her work, the inspiration for writing First Nations 101, and the impact she hopes the book will make. family connections: What were you experiencing that led you to write First Nations 101? lynda gray: Throughout my life I have heard many stereotypes and misconceptions about 6  Family Connections  Winter 2012

First Nations people, including during my college and university years, and in the work that I do today. I am a strong believer in education, both formal and informal, so I thought the best way to educate many people at once would be to write a primer that covered diverse issues that people wonder about and are often afraid to ask a First Nations person about. fc: In the book you talk about the realities that First Nations families are facing. What are some of these realities? lg: First, we must realize what strength and resiliency it has taken First Nations people to survive the 500 year onslaught of laws, policies, and acts that have severely damaged our families and communities. Some of our families and communities have recovered at a faster pace than others, but many of us are realizing that they don’t have to live with abuses, poverty, racism, or family challenges. Many of us are still dealing with the inter-generational effects of the residential school system that introduced very negative behaviors and coping mechanisms that continue to challenge our recovery as a people.

fc: What are some of the changes that you think need to happen on a community level to address the realities that First Nations families are facing? lg: I continue to assert that silence, shame, and spiritual starvation are allowing negative behaviors to flourish in some families and communities. Until we can learn about the true history of how our communities have evolved, what has been lost, and to confront the problems in our community, there cannot be real and widespread positive change. Our communities must also be provided the necessary resources to help reintroduce healthier behaviors, teach life skills, and offer education and training. The residential school system lasted for over 130 years and was fully funded by the federal government – it will take just as much time, persistence, and funding to reverse the devastating effects of that and many other assimilationist policies. fc: What are some of the short term outcomes that you hope to see for First Nations families? lg: In the short-term I would love to see wide-spread, accessible, and culturally appropriate counseling and parenting skills

Until we can learn about the true history of how our communities have evolved, what has been lost, and to confront the problems in our community, there cannot be real and widespread positive change.

programs available to all of our communities so that we can learn about letting go of our pain and negative coping mechanisms while also learning more positive parenting skills so that our children are not burdened with carrying the legacy of residential schools for yet another generation. fc: First Nations 101 was originally written as a primer, is the book primarily for academic use? lg: First Nations 101 is meant to be used by everyone including youth, teachers/professors, employers, government agencies, religious organizations, and many others to educate themselves and others about the shared history of First Nations and non-First Nations people so that barriers can be broken down that inhibit us from getting to know each other better and creating a strong country for everyone living here. It has been particularly useful in opening up conversations through my public presentations as people are being provided with practical information that they might not otherwise hear about. fc: How do you think the book will be useful to service providers working with First Nations families?

lg: Both non-First Nations and First Nations people will benefit from reading First Nations 101 as very few people have even a fraction of the information I have provided in the book. Although many people expect every First Nations person to know everything about First Nations people and history, most of us do not due to the externally imposed laws, policies, and acts that have left us struggling to regain our traditions and to rebuild our families. Once a person truly understands the background of a person or family (including a historical context), a different level of understanding and empathy emerges that can lead to the development of a trusting and helpful relationship. It will help service providers to empathize with First Nations people, rather than judge or blame them for their problems which are not entirely brought on by themselves.

opportunities – not ability. It makes me very happy and hopeful when I see Native youth make positive choices in their lives that can help them to become self-reliant and able to achieve their goals. fc: What is next for you? Do you have any other projects on the go? lg: I am very much dedicated to the work I do with the Urban Native Youth Association as almost 60% of our community is under the age of 25 and almost 60% of all First Nations people live in the city. My long-term goal is to have a Native Youth Centre built at the corner of Hastings and Commercial in Vancouver. In fact, I am donating one dollar from the sale of every First Nations 101 book to the capital campaign. So far, I have donated $3,000. More info on the campaign can be found at

fc: Can you tell us a little about your work with the Urban Native Youth Association? lg: UNYA has been providing programs and services to Native youth in Vancouver since 1988. It offers 21 programs, has over 200 partnerships, and 100+ staff. We strongly believe that Native youth lack meaningful Winter 2012  Family Connections  7


“I just want to get this over with.” 8  Family Connections  Winter 2012

justice system vs families  Kathy


Years of cuts to Legal Aid in BC are hurting families, particularly women and kids. Can the system be repaired?


am a family law practitioner who often provides duty counsel services: this means I am paid through BC’s Legal Services Society to help lower income people with their family law problems. And the people who “just want to get it over with?” They’re among the growing number of people who find themselves in family court in this province, without legal representation. They want to “get it over with”, but because family law cases are often complex and fraught with emotion, all too often that means that when people don’t have a lawyer to represent them, they make poor decisions; decisions that can have lasting negative impacts for themselves and their families, including their children. The consequences for family litigants who cannot afford a lawyer and do not qualify for legal aid are apparent on a daily basis to people like me who work in the justice system. Decisions are often made hastily and based on emotional factors rather than legal knowledge, rights are given up out of frustration, fear or ignorance, or court proceedings are dragged out because the

litigants want to proceed with unfounded claims out of stubbornness and bitterness. And sadly, what is best for the children is frequently forgotten in the heat of the battle. Although children are rarely at the courthouse, they are often profoundly affected by their parents or guardians going into court without a lawyer. Often orders that are agreed to in haste must be reviewed within a matter of days or weeks because they simply do not work for the parties. In BC today the number of unrepresented litigants in family matters is steadily increasing. It’s time that we took a hard look at what the effects of this situation are. That starts with understanding how the system got to where it is today. The Who, What and Why of Legal Aid Legal aid in BC is delivered by the Legal Services Society (LSS), a non-profit organization which receives approximately 90% of its funding from the provincial government. When most people think of “legal aid,” they think of lawyers who represent individuals and assist them in resolving their

legal problems. In fact, the Legal Services Society also provides self-help publications, a family law website, family and criminal law duty counsel programs and a family law advice line. Section 9 of the Legal Services Society Act sets out the society’s mandate: • to help people resolve their legal problems and to facilitate access to justice; • to establish and administer an effective and efficient system for providing legal aid to people in BC; • and to provide advice to the Attorney General about legal aid and access to justice for people in BC The provincial government prescribes the areas of law where representation can be provided through legal aid. Those who apply for legal aid are assessed both on their financial status and the type of problem they are facing. Representation is only available on criminal, child protection and limited family and immigration law problems.

Winter 2012  Family Connections  9


A History of Cuts In 2002, the provincial government in BC reduced its funding to legal aid by almost 40%. This led to dramatic reductions in service: 45 branch legal aid offices were closed, there were large layoffs in staff (including staff lawyers), and there were severe reductions in family law coverage and the elimination of government funded poverty law services. These cutbacks disproportionately affected women, because typically the family law client is female while the criminal law client is male. Criminal and child protection law were not affected in any significant way. In 2010 there were more reductions in service – the number of regional offices in the province was cut from 7 to 2. Brenda Muliner is a family law practitioner from Kamloops who has extensive experience with legal aid (including a stint as a staff lawyer in Prince Rupert). Here’s her comment on the then and now of BC’s legal aid system: Until 2002, BC had a well functioning legal aid and justice system. Years of cuts by the Provincial Liberals to legal aid and the courts have left legal aid in BC in tatters, and the court system a backed up mess. Who is Eligible for Legal Aid? Cutbacks have meant that it is now much more difficult to qualify to receive legal aid than it was prior to 2002. Currently, you can receive representation by a lawyer if you are financially eligible and you are facing one of three serious family situations: • the client’s safety or the safety of her or his children is at risk; • the client has been denied access to her or his children on an ongoing basis; • or there is a risk that a child will be permanently removed from the province. Generally only one referral for serious family situations will be issued. There must be 10  Family Connections  Winter 2012

a change in the client’s circumstances to be eligible for another emergency services referral. These guidelines are very restrictive compared to pre-2002 coverage. And the effect on families that are breaking up has been extremely significant. Family violence is one of the only remaining family issues for which legal representation is available. Yet for many women, particularly immigrant women, there are cultural prohibitions against sharing such information and they are ashamed or afraid to disclose. Because of the office closures in 2002 and again in 2010, many legal aid

assistance of duty counsel are those whose main problem upon family break-up is financial. They typically have claims for child and spousal support, and property issues. Unless they also have family violence issues, they do not qualify for legal representation. And to pursue property issues, they have to go to Supreme Court. For so many of these women, the self-help options available are not realistic. Even with access to the Legal Services Society family law website, which connects to the Supreme Court forms, and the assistance of family duty counsel (who do not prepare paperwork)

Legal aid should be fully funded as an essential public service. applications are taken over the phone, a further institutional barrier to sharing the necessary information. The Reality: Negotiating a Complex System Alone The biggest practical effect of the changes for those who need legal aid to resolve their family problems is that legal representation has become much harder to come by. In recognition of this issue and in an attempt to address it, the Legal Services Society started a family duty counsel program that is available in most courthouses. This is an incometested program that offers legal advice and assistance to those who don’t qualify for individual representation – it means a lawyer can give you advice and can speak for you in court on simple matters, but they cannot take on your whole case and cannot represent you at a trial or contested hearing. Because duty counsel is not available to help people with contested matters, the program is of limited assistance to clients struggling with complex family issues. Very commonly, women seeking the

it is extremely difficult for them to carry on without legal representation. Frequently these people abandon their efforts to achieve a fair judicial result because it becomes too complex. In the end, many have to resort to social assistance rather than get what they are legally entitled to. A Disappearing Resource One consequence of the cutbacks to legal aid is that there are today many, many people who simply believe “there is no legal aid” in family matters. This view is particularly prevalent in the smaller communities of BC The Public Commission on Legal Aid found that “One of the main themes which emerged in the submissions was that the legal aid system is wholly inadequate outside the Lower Mainland”. David Dundee, chair of the CBA Kamloops Family Law section for many years and an experienced family lawyer and mediator, says: “Whenever legal aid is cut back – or any government assistance, for that matter – it always has a disproportionate effect on families in more rural or remote communities.

Connect with readers. Connect with families.

It is like a vast but shallow lake. When the water level drops, those nearest the centre hardly notice; whereas those who live near the water’s edge just wake up one morning and find the shoreline has disappeared. The problem with legal aid especially is that those charged with measuring the effect of recent cutbacks all live at the lake’s centre.” In response to the serious problems with access to legal aid in BC, the Public Commission on Legal Aid was launched in June of 2010. The Public Commission was funded by the Canadian Bar Association, BC branch, the Law Society of BC, the Law Foundation of BC, the BC Crown Counsel Association, and the Vancouver and Victoria Bar Associations and led by highly respected Commissioner Leonard Doust QC. The Commission produced its report, “Foundation for Change,” in March 2011. Commissioner Doust made 7 over-aching findings: • The legal aid system is failing needy individuals and families, the justice system, and our communities. • Legal information is not an adequate substitute for legal assistance and representation. • Timing of accessing legal aid is key. • There is a broad consensus concerning the need for innovative, client-focused legal aid services. • Steps must be taken to meet legal aid needs in rural communities. • More people should be eligible for legal aid. • Legal aid should be fully funded as an essential public service.

And you can join the campaign to advocate for increased legal aid services in BC. We Need Legal Aid suggests 10 ways to help. Here’s the first: Remember that word of mouth is still the best social media. Send your friends to this website and explain to them why legal aid is so important. And if you know a politician, community group leader or business leader in your area that would be interested in supporting the campaign, ask them to email us at It is always our hope that we will not have to use the justice system to resolve family matters, but for those who need it, legal representation should be available to ensure the results are sustainable, just and fair.

special member rates To book your advertisement, contact: Tina Albrecht, Our next ad deadline is March 30, 2012.

Online Resources Legal Services Society: We Need Legal Aid campaign: Public Commission on Legal Aid:


 Kathy Kendall

Kathy is a lawyer who has lived and worked in Kamloops for over 25 years. As a strong advocate

As part of the Canadian Bar Association’s campaign to build support for legal aid, they have launched the We Need Legal Aid website: On the website you can read the stories of people whose lives have been directly impacted by having or not having legal representation.

Advertising in Family Connections is a great way to showcase your events or services. Family Connections helps you get your message out to family service professionals all across BC.

for social justice, she has been an active volunteer

Family news you need to know. • New research • Policies and programs • Reports and statistics • Trainings and professional development • Events and updates from the BC Council for Families

with a number of organizations both locally and internationally and has her own law practice. She is the BCNDP candidate for the constituency of

Free! Delivered to your desktop every Monday morning.

Kamloops North Thompson. Her favourite thing is to spend time with her daughter Jessica.

Subscribe online:

Winter 2012  Family Connections  11



n tio sa er nv saac co I in ne el, Elai eft Sh c, & vid Isaa Da wn Da

Time th

wi e,







Last fall, just as another Canadian winter was closing in, I found myself in Winnipeg, Manitoba, taking part in an extraordinary, revelatory training experience. Called the First Nations Family Attachment Program: Issues and Relevance, the training was a three-day immersion in the history and realities of life for First Nations families in Canada led by three generations of women from a First Nations family. I had gone with the modest hope of learning more about the issue of attachment in First Nations families, because as a BC trainer of home visitors, parent educators, and father support workers, I know how 12  Family Connections  Winter 2012

vital early attachment is, and how important building strong parent-child attachment is for ensuring the healthy development of families. I hoped, as well, to gain a better understanding of how the history of First Nations people’s treatment in Canada has impacted family structure and family functioning in aboriginal communities. What I wasn’t expecting was how the powerful combination of the trainers’ academic backgrounds and lived experiences of the issues they explore would impact every aspect of these three days. Topics ranged from “Attachment in Traditional First Nations Parenting”, “Residential Schools

and Assimilation Policies” to “Culturally Relevant Healing Strategies.” Learning about the history of residential schools and their impact on families through the past seven generations was a powerful reminder of the work Canadian society and the helping profession needs to do to support First Nations families. Talking about the strengths today’s families have as a starting point for developing relevant and effective supports. After the training, I sat down with Mary, Dawn and Elaine, to learn more about their work and their hopes for the future of First Nations families in Canada.

Mary Courchene is a recognized

Dawn Isaac holds an undergraduate

Elaine Isaac is Anicinabe Ojiway

cultural Elder in the First Nations

degree in Human Ecology and graduate

from Sagkeeng. She is a lifelong

communities of Manitoba. She is

degree in Applied Communications.

learner; with a degree in Social Work,

Anicinabe Ojibwa from Sagkeeng First

She has several years of experience

Post-Baccalaureate in Educational

Nation. She has been a classroom

in research & training with a focus on

Psychology, and a Masters in Social

teacher and special education

First Nations issues. She is Anicinabe

Work. She has worked in child and

counsellor for Winnipeg 1 School

Ojibwa from Sagkeeng First Nation

family services as a clinician, for

division, principal at Sagkeeng school,

and has received many traditional

federal and provincial governments

teacher at Brokenhead First Nation,

teachings from her grandmother Elder

as a health policy consultant,

student placement advisor for Frontier

Mary Courchene. Her thesis utilized

trainer- writer for many First Nations

School Division, Superintendent for

the Medicine Wheel as a pedagogical

organizations and mainstream groups

Indian and Northern Affairs, founding

tool for understanding relationships

on psycho-social systemic issues and

principal at Children of the Earth High

and knowledge management. She

healing. Elaine is passionate about

School, and Dean of Education at Red

is passionate about promoting a

her work in intergenerational trauma

River College.

wide-spread understanding of First

with her mother Mary and daughters

Nations issues both in a historical

Dawn and Jaimie. She is a grandma of

and current context. Her proudest

two precious boys who are her heart

accomplishments in life are her two

and spirit.

boys: Sacha & Nikolai.

Three generations of Manitoba First Nations women meditate on the effects of assimilation, the power of cultural identity and the surprising resilience of Aboriginal families.

David: Can you describe your work and the First Nations Family Attachment Programs? Dawn: We’re a three generation team, and what we do is a workshop on First Nations family attachment. It’s a three day workshop, we look at our common historical past, and we look at some of the traditions and sacred teachings that we had traditionally and the secure attachments that existed. And then we look at the assimilation policies that came into play, and our common history with the residential school legacy, and how that severed a lot of the secure attachments that existed, and now have been passed down

through intergenerational trauma. And finally, we sort of end our third day with a really positive note, we talk about resilience and we talk about healing and forgiveness. And we also talk about ways in which we can understand attachment as a general concept for us as First Nations people, using the medicine wheel. Mary: That’s the description of the work that we do. Why do we do this, and why do we think it’s important? Well, first of all, we’re looking for that authenticity, and the validation, and the understanding of how the First peoples here, that lived here, lived in a

way that was comparable, or even superseded what is now in place. We had all of the systems that are in place today, only in a different way. But all the systems were there, but that has never been validated, the people themselves were not validated. Even though, in the beginning, they were empowered, they became disempowered as settlements began. And the more the settlements came in, the less empowered they were. And they were taken over and colonized. So we need to know that that can be still in place. And all of the things we talk about like historical kinds of atrocities that occurred, we need to talk about that and bring it into focus, and Winter 2012  Family Connections  13


we need to understand why. Why our spirits were broken and why we were wounded. But that resilience is still there and there is a resurgence of cultural identity and that’s the reason why we do that. I believe the more people like us do that, the better it will be for the future generations. David: Can you describe why it is important for each of you to tell your story, not just the facts, and history, and figures, but your own personal story? Why is it important for people to hear firsthand accounts? Elaine: I worked for the Federal Government, in Health and I also worked for the Provincial Government Health Ministry and I began to see strands of familiarity in terms of what the kids were experiencing. I really began to identify some of the things I was experiencing to what experts were really perpetuating in terms of the myths about dysfunctional behavior and dysfunctional populations, and the Aboriginal people always coming out as having some kind of mass difficulty. So there were all kinds of these systemic issues and then there was at the macro level that was beginning to unwind in terms of the history going back to colonization. Like, residential school, and how we were institutionalized at each generation, and then it came back to micro level to me and what I was experiencing, so that I began my own kind of personal journey, and I wanted to write about that. 14  Family Connections  Winter 2012

Basically, what started out as a personal journey, expanded into this realization that there were people like myself, experiencing the same things. Dawn: I think it’s important too, that this is our truth, and people in Canada, and even our own youth, don’t know our truth. It’s not being taught in history books, and if people are going to be working with our families, they really need to understand the truth of what happened, and they need to understand that what happened years ago still has a direct impact on the families that they’re

it happens often at that subconscious level and at that cellular level. I didn’t know the history about residential schools and I hadn’t even heard about, my nana’s story until very recently, in 2008, so when we hear the truths out there, it provides a deeper understanding of ourselves, and why we feel the way we feel. And we understand that that trauma that we all feel deep in our souls, and actually, for me, I feel a great sense of pride in who I am now. I understand now, why maybe I felt ashamed when I was growing up, but now I don’t, and now my kids won’t.

Spirituality is the cornerstone of who we are… working with today. In order to have that level of understanding, you need that. You can feel empathetic, you need to understand exactly what happened and know that there’s a reason why things are the way they are today. Otherwise, I don’t know if you’re really in the best position to be able to help our families. Because if you don’t understand that, you don’t know the levels of trauma that families are experiencing. David: Can you define intergenerational trauma? Dawn: Basically intergenerational trauma is when there’s grief historically, and that grief, and that trauma is passed down from one generation to the next generation. And

Mary: We are three generations of survivors. And I believe, from an elder’s perspective, having gone through residential school and having spent 10-12 years working in the high school, having spent that amount of time being institutionalized, and you know, being indoctrinated to take on another persona, a totally different persona from the inside out. And we feel that, you know, all over the place it’s been like that for residential school survivors in those generations, and now it’s gone beyond that. The intergenerational trauma that is happening, and is still happening, in various places. So we need to, in order for people who are in those service fields, the understanding, before they can go any further, needs to be there. That understanding, and that acceptance, and

“…this is our truth, and people in Canada, and even our own youth, don’t know our truth. It’s not being taught in history books, and if people are going to be working with our families, they really need to understand the truth of what happened, and they need to understand that what happened years ago still has a direct impact on the families that they’re working with today.”

validation needs to be there; in that way they can be much more of a support. And, be able to help them in the best way that one can. We’re three generations of caregivers and we all look after each other. We all have that need to look after one another and to caregive one another and I think that’s part of the resilience and survival in that we’re always very communal. That extended family has never left, even though it was attempted to be taken away, it’s still so strong in our family. David: What would you say some of the mistakes are that people who work with aboriginal families make? Mary: Coming in with their preconceived notions. This is ‘oh I have a preconceived idea about the people I’m coming in here to help, to teach’. Well for me, teaching is the wrong word, yes we learn from each other, but I’m not here to be the expert. That’s coming from looking at people in a deficient way. ‘You’re deficient, and I’m going to fix you up, and I know a lot about this’, instead of looking at the whole person. Dawn: Not having that understanding, and not taking the time to actually build relationships, because, when we talk about attachment, attachment is all about building an emotional bond, that can help develop a sense of trust and a sense of space and security. If you’re going in with the notion that you’re the expert and you’re going to

teach parents how to parent their kids, it’s never going to work, because all you’re doing is perpetuating the cycle of shame and that somehow they’re not able to care for their children, when really, they’re able to care for their children, and you need to have an understanding of them as a person, holistically, and of our history, holistically. Mary: That relationship has to be built, first of all, and then gain that trust. You have those two basic things, and then you can begin to hear them and to share with them. And you know that they have their own strengths, and to work with their strengths, rather than working from that deficient model, that’s very important.

spiritual resilience, and that I think overcomes the negative things. You know what, it’s a non-tangible thing to talk about. Dawn: It’s such an important part of our identity. Spirituality is the cornerstone of who we are, who we were, you know. Mary: The spirituality cannot be fragmented, but it’s more than that, it’s everyday living. Spirituality, how the elders describe it, is part of our everyday lives. Dawn: It’s also interpreted by different people. The lived experience is individual and at the emotional, psychological, and spiritual level; it’s a very personal journey, but we all arrive at the same place.

David: Do you think it’s essential to incorporate spirituality, traditional teachings, or heritage into this work? Elaine: Spirituality is more than religiosity, and I think that spirituality is the way that you understand life, and the way that you practice life, in simple terms, in a good way. And that, in our language is called Mino-Pimatisiwin, living the good life, and extending that to one another. And practicing principles, not just talking about them, and recognizing that we have a unique history, recognizing that we have a gift to share. The larger community needs to know more about the culture and rich history of First Nations, and also that we have this absolute resilience,

 David Sheftel

As the provincial coordinator of BC’s Home Visitor Training Initiative, David Sheftel provides training, professional development and support to home visitors throughout BC using the internationally respected Great Kids Inc. home visiting model. He has a profound belief in the value of helping families to discover and enhance their strengths.

Winter 2012  Family Connections  15

Good to Know

the road ahead – Creating Healthy Sustainable First Nations Families and Communities – do-able steps and suggestions Change the World “Responding to the challenges of first-nations communities, creating a path to opportunity, cultural sustainability, and economic engagement, would be an achievement worthy of a wealthy, caring and intelligent nation. We have waited too long. We can wait no longer. All Canadians must extend hands of friendship and mutual respect to their First Nations Canadian neighbours. We must, as a country, realize that we can change the world for the better. We start now.” from We are all responsible for the plight of Canada’s

teacher. My friends know very little of the traditional way of life. So, I am privileged to learn these teachings from my dad. I believe that there are different kinds of way to get an education. No matter what kind it is, we will be better off with education. We become better people and better citizens and we also can have better lives.” Kenzie, Cross Lake First Nation, Manitoba. from Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nation Students: The Report of the National Panel on First Nation Elementary and Secondary Education for Students on Reserve

First Nations by Ken Coates and Greg Poelzer. In the Globe and Mail, February 17, 2012.

Learn, Share, Grow 1. Continually learn about the true history of First Nations people within Canada and the United States and share that knowledge with others. 2. Actively support First Nations social service organizations through volunteering, donations, advocacy and partnerships. from Ten Things Everyone Can Do in First Nations 101 by Lynda Gray.

Nurturing and Supporting Children “My dad has a grade ten education. He started off as a labourer for hydro and he cannot move up because he does not have a grade twelve degree. But my dad has been trapping since he was twelve and he was brought up the traditional way. He knows the trapline like the back of his hand. He also has skills that cannot be learned in the classroom. He has a different kind of degree. My dad learned different things and the different skills that are not recognized by a piece of paper. I am proud of my dad and I’m learning from him. And I cannot learn this from my 16  Family Connections  Winter 2012

Take Action Be a Witness: To the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal case and help 160,000 First Nations children get culturally based and equitable child welfare services. http://www.

issue of Poverty in your family, clan, nation, tribe, or community. Find Indigenous Aunty-Poverty on Facebook! The Legacy of Residential Schools • Residential schools – ran from 1830’s to 1970’s. 150,000 children attended (Aboriginal Family Attachment training, Aulneau Renewal Centre)

• 87,000 survivors and hundreds of thousands of intergenerational survivors (Aboriginal Family Attachment training, Aulneau Renewal Centre)

• Aboriginal children are 15 times more likely to be removed from their homes and placed into foster care than non-Aboriginal counterparts (Aboriginal Family Attachment training, Aulneau Renewal Centre)

• In British Columbia, just over half of all children in care are aboriginal yet they comprise just eight per cent of the provincial population (Auditor General Report, May 2008)

Sign Jordan’s Principle: Put an end to government red tape depriving First Nations children of government services available to all others. jordans-principle/#sign-up

• Aboriginal children are less likely to live with their biological family than any other cultural group in Canada (Aboriginal Family

from 7 things you can do by the First Nations Child

• There are 45 unique First Nations in Canada, plus the Inuit and Métis (First Nations 101, Lynda Gray) • There are 608 First Nations bands in Canada (First Nations 101, Lynda Gray) • Per cent of the Aboriginal population in B.C. living on reserves – 26 per cent (http://

and Family Caring Society of Canada:

Aunties Fighting Poverty Aunty Poverty is a movement to mobilize all women of all ages and generations to bring back the important teachings of the role of Aunties in our families, and communities. Aunties can do this individually by helping someone in their family or several Aunties can gather together in a community to help families. Share ideas, stories and events about what you are doing individually as an Aunty or as a community of Aunties to help address the

Attachment training, Aulneau Renewal Centre) - General B.C. and Canada First Nations Statistics -Aboriginal People in British Columbia

• There are 29 distinct First Nations languages in BC

The Final Word

focus on aboriginal education means focusing on families “Intolerable gaps.” “Something no Canadian should have to put up with.” “Not a school you would send your kid to.” These, and other equally strong terms, are how editorial writers in Canada’s major newspapers chose to describe the findings of the National Panel on Aboriginal Education, which released its report, Nurturing the Learning Spirit of First Nations Students, early in February 2012. That panel, which included representation from the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations, investigated conditions in 25 First Nations schools across Canada, and in their report announced themselves “startled”. Startled by unsafe buildings, by the lack of available supports for children with special needs, by the absence of early literacy programming, by inconsistencies around reporting, teacher certification and pay levels, and more. The dismal conditions in schools, along with the lack of consistent standards, must bear part of the blame for the low rates of school completion by aboriginal youth, the panel concluded, and urged government to create a child-centred First Nations education system to establish and protect each child’s right to a quality education. The good news is that just maybe school conditions and education for aboriginal children will improve as a result of this report. The report’s recommendations, which are many and varied, include three urgent calls for short-term funding – to increase funding levels for on-reserve schools to keep step with provincially funded schools, to close the gap between the pay of on-reserve teachers and their provincial counterparts, and investments in early literacy for young children. Many political observers expect that the government will address those recommendations in the next federal budget. Certainly that’s an outcome worth fighting for, particularly as the birth rate amongst aboriginal families continues to be the highest in Canada. Preparing the next generation of aboriginal youth to become educated, informed citizens, as well as equipped to participate fully in the workforce and the economy, needs to be a priority both federally and provincially in the years ahead. But a focus on schools, and on increasing graduation rates, as the solution to the social ills besetting many First Nations people, is

only part of the picture. It’s true, a large and vital part of children’s learning occurs September to June, between the hours of 9 and 3, Monday to Friday. But an at least equally large and vital share of learning about life occurs outside those hours, in the immediate and extended families, neighborhoods and communities in which children live. Because those aspects of children’s lives are harder to control, it’s tempting (and typical) for policy makers and educators to focus their attention almost entirely upon only the in-school hours, and to ignore the family context in which so much of every child’s life and learning happens. There are indications that the Panel on Aboriginal Education recognizes the importance of ensuring that schools work together with families and communities to support children. In their report, the authors note that “when there is a gulf between … the education system and the daily learning from parents, grandparents and elders, a sense of confusion is formed and neither cultural outlook is trusted or valued. … Such education not only demeans students, it confirms a sense of exclusion from the education experience.“ By contrast, the report calls for a system of education for First Nations youth that incorporates a life-long, holistic approach to learning. As this report was released, two other developments of note for the future of aboriginal children and youth occurred. The federal government found itself again in court facing the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, who contend that Canada’s governments have systemically discriminated against aboriginal children, by underfunding child-welfare and social services on reserves. And Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation commission neared the half-way mark in its mandate to investigate the legacy of the residential school system on First Nations communities. The commission’s chairman, Justice Murray Sinclair, noted soberly that “It took 130 years to create this problem. It’s probably going to take 130 years to undo it.” Ensuring that families and children have access to the supports and services they deserve is a crucial step in undoing the problems of the past, and creating a healthy future for all First Nations families. Winter 2012  Family Connections  17

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Family Connections Winter 2012  

Inside this issue: > Why legal aid matters to families – and why BC needs it back > Personal healing journeys helped 3 generations of a Firs...