Touchstones of Hope refers to the principles and process of reconciliation that emerged from a 2005 gathering of Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders in Niagara Falls, the territory of Six Nations of the Grand River. These Touchstones embody a community based philosophy to guide the re-visioning of child welfare for Aboriginal children and families. These principles, and the reconciliation processes that guide their interpretation at a community level, are set out in the document Reconciliation in child welfare: touchstones of hope for indigenous children, youth and families (2005).
The gathering in 2005 showed us that the current child welfare system is not the best we can do for Aboriginal children. There are other approaches that can ensure the safety of children within their distinct cultures and communities. Through the Touchstones process we can work together to ensure this generation of First Nations children in Northern BC are treated with respect, honor and can grow up safely at home.
The five touchstone principles are:
- Self determination: respecting that Indigenous peoples are in the best position to make decisions regarding Indigenous children.
- Holism: respecting the child as part of an interconnected reality where family, community, nation and world are all honored.
- Culture and Language: the culture and language of an Indigenous child will be honored and supported through the provision of culturally based child welfare services.
- Structural interventions: addressing poverty, poor housing and substance misuse are key component to effective child welfare services for Indigenous children.
- Non discrimination: Indigenous children should receive a comparable level of child welfare and allied services to non Aboriginal children. Indigenous knowledge will be given preference when responding to the needs of Aboriginal children.
These touchstone principles are meant to be interpreted within distinct cultures and contexts of Aboriginal communities according to a four stage reconciliation process:
- Truth telling: Sharing the history of the interactions between Aboriginal peoples and child welfare in a way that informs learning and avoids the replication of past mistakes.
- Acknowledgement: Child welfare acknowledges responsibility for past wrongs and develops processes with Aboriginal peoples to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated.
- Restoration: Child welfare does what it can to restore relationships with Aboriginal peoples and commit to a more positive future going forward.
- Relating: Acknowledges the long term nature of reconciliation and is a full commitment between Aboriginal and non Aboriginal peoples to ensure the best outcomes for Aboriginal children through the full and proper implementation of the Touchstones of Hope.
Reconciliation cannot be classified as a single event. Rather, reconciliation is a movement—a movement carried forth through events, moments between individuals, and most importantly, through relationship building. The Touchstones of Hope movement encourages building and sustaining relationships with others devoted to ensuring that Aboriginal children are healthy and living in dignity and respect.
The Touchstones of Hope are intended to be infused throughout the child welfare from research to practice. The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (fncaringsociety.com) has developed community based training programs to help communities interpret the Touchstones within their distinct cultures and contexts. Over 100 people across Canada, including Aboriginal youth, have now been trained on the Touchstones of Hope process.