Community Papers

Day of Action brings out Okanagan Nation Alliance

The pounding of drums and chants of Okanagan Nation members rang out across Westbank Monday afternoon.

In a protest that brought around 30 Okanagan Nation representatives to the doors of Premier Christy Clark's constituency office holding placards with sayings like, "poverty is not neglect" concerns about cuts to Aboriginal children's programs were put front and centre.

Late last month, the provincial government announced that 18 aboriginal community-based programs will lose their  Ministry of Children and Family Development funding. The decision, which is said to be a reaction to a report that found the government had sunk $66-million over the past dozen years into such programs with no demonstrable benefit for children in care, is  worse that the "residential school holocaust," said protesters.

"What's happening today is worse than what happened to our babies back then," said Laurie Wilson, a family law advocate with the Okanagan Nation Alliance.

She explained the decision to cut the funding effectively mutes Aboriginal people in circumstances when their voices are most in need of being heard.

"The ministry does a poor job helping our helpless children," she said. "I'm always talking about a plan. We've been living under the government's plan too long and it's not helping our families."

Families, she said, are fragmented by government policies that focus on removing children from homes where abuse and neglect have been demonstrated, while work on prevention isn't funded at all.

Focusing on prevention, she said, would save dollars and First Nation cultures.

The Okangan Nation Alliance, she said, had successfully kept 94 children in their homes, under healthier circumstances.

"Each child we help saves the Ministry of Children and Family Development $250,000," she said. "Why are our plans being gutted? We have seen what healthy and happy communities look like."

And, she explained, they require leadership from within.

Wilson said that she and those who joined her Monday intend to keep the pressure on government to listen to Aboriginal people on this issue.

Clark was not in her office at the time of the protest.

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