Cowichan Tribes Justice


Culture shifts don’t happen easily. They are resisted for various reasons, in part because they are not “business as usual”. Resistance is overcome when people experience the shift. So, in February 2016, A2JBC decided to encourage and support, through an incubation stage, some collaborative initiatives as testing grounds and exemplars of how to be collaborative, user-centred, experimental and evidence-based.


The Cowichan Tribes Justice collaborative was one of them.

The purpose of the Cowichan Tribes Justice collaborative is to improve access to justice for the Cowichan Tribes community, and address the Indigenous child welfare crisis by applying Coast Salish/Cowichan laws in the current family law system, in the interim while Cowichan Tribes reassert jurisdiction over its children.

Over 50% of all children in care are Indigenous, although Indigenous children make up only 6% or more of the child population in British Columbia. Historically, the intrusion of child welfare authorities into Indigenous communities and families has been paternalistic and colonial in nature – at best insensitive and sometimes brutal to Indigenous people. C-92 is a federal act that recognizes Indigenous people’s jurisdiction over child and family services. The Cowichan Tribes are working on child and family wellness legislation.

Together with the BC First Nations Justice Council, A2JBC is supporting a project led by the Cowichan Tribes and the Lalum’utul’ Smun’eem Child and Family Services, and funded in part by the Law Foundation of BC. The lead of the project is Dr. Sarah Morales, law professor at the University of Victoria, whose specialty is Indigenous law traditions as they relate to child well-being and who is a Cowichan Tribes member. As part of the project, Dr. Morales has interviewed Elders, community members and leaders, to discern Cowichan family law processes.

The project held two sessions (May 29, 2019 and February 24, 2020) attended by Cowichan Tribes community members, members of the judiciary, lawyers and federal and provincial government representatives. The first session was facilitated by the University of Victoria’s Indigenous Law Research Unit and included interactive discussion and practical hands-on introduction to accessing, understanding and applying Indigenous laws today. The second session looked specifically at the Cowichan Tribes definition of family as an example of how Cowichan law might be applied in the context of child protection justice issues.


The initiative demonstrates what it means to be:

  • collaborative, by bringing together community members and those who work in the family justice system currently applying to Cowichan Tribes children .
  • user-centred, by approaching child protection justice processes from the perspective of Indigenous children, families and communities.
  • experimental, by considering innovative ways to address the over-representation of indigenous children in care by applying Indigenous law within the existing child protection justice system.
  • evidence-based, drawing on community resources such as traditional teachings, written stories, interviews from Elders, community members and leaders.

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