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Remembering Le Estcwicwéy on International Missing Children’s Day May 25, 2024

Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) Territory

On International Missing Children’s Day, the Our Children Our Way Society honours and commemorates all children who have gone missing around the world. We hold the children and their families in our hearts.

Indigenous people across Turtle Island are deeply familiar with the experience of missing children. Of the more than 150,000 children who were forced to attend residential schools, thousands never returned home. Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair Murray Sinclair has estimated there to be over 10,000 of those missing children.

In 2001, evidence of hundreds of unmarked graves of children from residential schools—including 215 at the Kamloops Indian Residential School—served as a stark reminder of the thousands of children who went missing from residential schools. They are known as Le Estcwicwéy in the language of the Tk‘emlúpsemc people.

The removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities continues long after the residential schools were closed. In BC, Indigenous children make up nearly two-thirds of all children within the child welfare system, where concerning numbers of children are regularly reported lost or missing.

Dr. Martin Brokenleg has emphasized that: belonging is the most necessary human experience.” In the 2023 report, Missing: Why are children disappearing from BC’s child welfare system, the Representative for Children and Youth noted that disconnection from family and community and loss of belonging are critical risk factors for children who go missing in the child welfare system. Similarly, the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls pointed to the importance of belonging and connectedness as key ways to promote safety—and the abrupt loss of those protective factors when children enter the child welfare system.

Belonging is a critical component to our health and wellbeing. When we don’t know who we are or where we come from, our spirit is not strong,” says Jennifer Chuckry, Executive Director of the Our Children Our Way Society.

For Indigenous Child & Family Service Agencies, good practice supports Indigenous children and youth in building and maintaining connection to their communities and cultures. Keeping children and youth close to home where they can maintain family, community and cultural connections is always a priority.

Maintaining those connections requires the involvement of traditional family structures, immediate and extended families, Elders, traditional knowledge keepers, customs and communities in decision making and planning for the care of children in the child welfare system.

“Belonging to a community and being culturally connected contribute enormously to the wellbeing of Indigenous children and youth,” says Mary Teegee, Chair of the Our Children Our Way Society. “We want our children to feel embraced by safety, love, and culture. This is how we nurture healthier families and keep our children safe.”

International Missing Children’s Day brings awareness to missing children—and must also bring awareness of the traditional teachings that have long kept children safe within their families and communities.

For further comment, please contact:

Mary Teegee, Chair – Our Children Our Way Society – Phone: 250-612-8710