For decades, social services have been taking Indigenous kids away from their parents more than they take white kids.
That’s because colonization and residential schools have left folks with trauma. That trauma greatly affects parents and, consequently, their children.
This, coupled with a lack of support services and systemic racism, has meant thousands of kids ended up in foster care.
Removing children from their parents is not great, even when those parents are having a hard time. And it’s a cycle that can’t be healed alone. It needs to be healed through community support.
The Huu-ay-aht First Nation, in partnership with the province and many other organizations, is bringing that community together.
Oomiiqsu is a project that’s been in the making since 2016. Oomiiqsu—meaning “mother”—is a supportive model of care developed by Huu-ay-aht to break this cycle.
They’ll be opening a 24/7 mother and child safe home to give the level of support needed to provide healing and keep families together.
The home will be a place of cultural care and refuge for up to 48 mothers and children. It’s for mothers and children who are leaving violence or abuse, facing mental health and addictions challenges, poverty, or other trauma.
Josie Osborne, MLA for Mid Island-Pacific Rim, told Alberni Valley News that the project embodies the Nuu-chah-nulth concept of hishuk’ish tsawalk, or everything is one, because many people are working towards the same goals.
“One of those goals is to turn the corner from a very dark history of separating children from families and culture, to one that is more generous, more humane,” Osborne said.
It’s a project that should have happened a long time ago, and MP Gord Johns was visibly emotional that it’s finally coming to fruition.
“I’ve been to hundreds of announcements in my riding in the last seven years,” he said. “I haven’t been to anything more important than today. This project is going to save lives.”
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and the centre will represent just that.
As Edward R. Johnson, Huu-ay-aht councillor, put it, “Oomiiqsu is going to be a place to bring children home, where mothers and children will feel safe, healthy and connected. They will be able to look back and tell many wonderful stories.”
The building will be fully operated by the Huu-ay-aht Child and Family Wellness Department. Construction will begin in 2023, and the centre is expected to open in the summer of 2024.