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 All Along the Mountains and the Sea


F or a long time, foster homes on First Nations’ (Native) lands were few and far between.Many young people were placed outside of the reserve and in non-First Nation foster families. Like many Native American communities in the United States, First Nation communities in Canada experienced genocide and forced assimilation through boarding schools and other means, such as the 'Sixties Scoop'.

The ‘Sixties Scoop’ was a decades-long practice started in the late 50s. Canadian officials would remove large numbers of Indigenous kids from their homes, putting them in foster care or up for adoption. The intention being that they remove indigenous youth from their families and culture. This practice has continued and, as of 2018, while just 7.7% of all children in Canada under 14 were Indigenous, they accounted for 52.2% of all children in foster care. The Canadian government had essentially stolen all of their kids.


The tribes wanted to change that. To bring their usma, their “precious ones”, home. So, after years of work by Usma Nuu-chah-nulth Family & Child Services, an agency supported and funded by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, there are now over 90 foster homes on Nuu-chah-nulth land (just 3 years earlier they had less than 10 foster homes). Usma nuu-chah-nulth Family & Child Services decided to adopt MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ as the way their tribes would deliver foster care because it resonated with how they have cared for their children for generations, as an extended family.

Nestled in one of Vancouver Island’s inlets along the Pacific Northwest live the Ahousaht and Tlao-qui-aht tribes, 2 of the 14 tribal communities in the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Nation. A fitting name too, as nuu-chah-nulth means “all along the mountains and sea.” During my recent visit with the tribes, we met in their lodge – filled with foster parents who had been invited to be at the launch of the Ahousaht and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribe’s first Mockingbird Family constellation. We might say the tribes are close neighbors, but their trip to the lodge that night required combined travel by foot, car, and even boat. While travel by boat was new to me, it was very familiar to the Nuu-Chah-Nulth people, who have long navigated the waters before first contact with Europeans. Yet, even with this shared history, as the foster parents began walking in and interacting, I could sense there was still caution amongst them. A nervousness one sees when people meet for the first time.

The launch began with an opening ceremony of a traditional prayer and chant offered by one of the tribal members. The nervousness lingering until, Ed, our host and an elder of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council called us together. He spoke to the importance of this moment, this moment when their community comes back to the way they have long cared for each other. As a member of the Tribal council, Ed spoke to the atrocities their community faced at the hands of colonization, and the ramifications it continues to have on their Nation’s history. To this day, this past continues to fuel the loss of lives, traditions, and customs. One of the biggest losses being their precious ones who were placed in foster care off tribal lands and away from their people.


As Ed spoke, his words resonated deeply with the families. Each of them had experienced this history in one form or another, and this was why they were here. This was the reason they spent years of work together to implement MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™. They, as a community, saw MOCKINGBIRD FAMILY™ to bring a Child Welfare system that historically harmed their community, closer to the values they have held culturally: raising their children within a connected and supportive extended family.

When the evening began most of the people had entered the room as strangers. By the end, however, you could see that they were becoming not just friends, but family. You see, as people met one another not only did they introduce themselves, but also their ancestors who had come before them. Through this introduction everyone discovered that they were related in some form, whether as a brother, sister, aunt, or uncle. Another elder himself met his great-great granddaughter for the first time at the constellation launch. People who came in as strangers left as aunties, uncles, cousins, grandparents, grandchildren, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers. And that is what Mockingbird Family is about – it’s about creating long lasting relationships, building family bonds, and creating a community that will support one another through the events of life.


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