Weechi-it-te-win Family Services Inc. marked its 10th anniversary yesterday with an open house, celebrating its success as a native child welfare agency despite a continuing struggle to keep up with funding cuts.
Held at the Nanicost grounds, the open house included traditional drumming ceremonies and a barbecue, as well as some encouraging words from native and non-native reps on the future of the agency.
Treaty #3 Tribal Chief Willie Wilson paid tribute to one of Weechi-it-te-win’s most important mandates—to keep aboriginal culture and values a part of the “child care” process.
He also noted the long, uphill battle it has experienced while trying to deal with fewer operating dollars.
“I want to congratulate Weechi-it-te-win on their first 10 years, and I hope the governments that control funding will recognize [the importance] of this agency,” Chief Wilson declared.
“It has been a long fight, and it is still a struggle. We hear the same old story—do it for less," he added. "Less cost, a lot more effort, a lot more headaches.”
Weechi-it-te-win and its 48-member staff currently operates on an annual budget of $3 million—half of the $6 million budget assessment suggested by the audits investigations branch of the Ministry of Community and Social Services before the Harris government was elected two years ago.
NDP leader and local MPP Howard Hampton admitted that even though he did not fully understand the good work Weechi-it-te-win was doing, he would continue to applaud its success and encourage its future endeavours concerning child welfare.
“Reality is that some incredibly successful work is being done here," he enthused yesterday. "There have been some incredible strides in community development, and in the quality of life that children and their families can look forward to.”
Hampton echoed the frustration felt over Weechi-it-te-win’s budget cuts, noting that it is severely underfunded when compared with other agencies across Canada.
“It is a chronic situation,” he said, but felt the dilemma would improve down the road.
George Simard, Weechi-it-te-win’s executive director since its designation 10 years ago, felt one of his agency’s most urgent goals nowadays was to raise awareness within the political ring to the role traditional values play—and to have them recognized in the budget process.
“What is important today in both a public and visual way is to show that Weechi-it-te-win is both cultural and aboriginal services,” he stressed.
“We have an obligation to see that this methodology be regularized as part of the process," Simard added. "It makes perfect sense for us to do things in this fashion.”
Meanwhile, Dennis Wroblewski, manager of finance, human resources and information systems, noted that despite the reality of financial constraints, Weechi-it-te-win has a near 100 percent turnover in the number of native homes now involved in the foster care process since it became recognized a decade ago.
“In the early days when Weechi-it-te-win began, almost 95 percent of these kids were in non-native homes," he recalled. ”We can boast that it is the other way around today.
“Ninety-five percent or greater are in native homes where we can continue to provide cultural awareness,” he noted.