We are thinking of you because you matter. Prince Rupert students and teachers are delivering this message attached to hand-sewn baby moccasins to 1,000 Indigenous children in foster care.
The Moccasin Project is a national campaign rooted in Manitoba, the province with the highest child welfare apprehension in the country. Since 2016, organizers made the call for 165,000 moccasins, one for each Indigenous child in Canada’s child welfare system. Da-gilwewaat — so they can go home — is the intention attached to each pair.
“I’ve made about six pairs in the last couple weeks,” said Ruby Mason, a Grade 12 student at Charles Hays Secondary School.
Prince Rupert students and teachers are the first group west of Manitoba to join the campaign. They have set the goal of making 1,000 moccasins to distribute across B.C., starting on the North Coast. As part of the project, students are learning about child apprehension, when a child is taken from their parent by a social worker and put into foster care if their safety is at risk.
At the high school, students heard from a social worker who provides support to Indigenous communities in the northwest.
“She was talking about all the stuff that those children go through, and it just really reminded me of how bad it really is. You don’t know until you know,” Mason said.
Grade 11 student, Rebecca Sampson, said she was first introduced to the project by her First Nations studies teacher.
“The child apprehension rate in Manitoba is so high and they have children that go into foster care as soon as they’re born. Also, if you’re a foster kid you have a higher chance of getting your child taken away,” Sampson said.
The Moccasin Project states that in Manitoba approximately 11,000 children are in foster care — 90 per cent are Indigenous — and 40 infants are estimated to be taken from hospitals each month.
In northwest B.C. there are 151 children in ministry care, 142 are Indigenous, according to the government’s most recent statistics. In the province, there are a total of 3,198 children in care and 52 per cent are Indigenous. But in a 2018 report by Bernard Richard B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth Indigenous, children represent approximately 63 per cent of the children in government care in B.C. but only eight per cent of the total child population in the province.
While most of the moccasins are being sent to children in Manitoba, the project coordinators have asked that the Prince Rupert participants distribute their moccasins across B.C. to draw awareness to the issue.
High school art teacher, Tasha Parker, is one of the lead organizers for the Prince Rupert project. She has students sewing the sinew, leather and hide moccasins in class. Her students said she’s both enthusiastic and generous. She’s applied for grants to make the project a reality. When the project grew, and they ran out of materials, she drove to Terrace to pick up more.
“The whole idea is they become aware so when they see it on the street they understand why,” Parker said.
Parker is also working with the middle school, Annunciation students, educational assistance and community members to help them reach the 1,000 goal. As a result, the Moccasin Project has morphed into another undertaking for foster families on the North Coast.
The Backpack Project
Foster parents often receive children with very little notice, sometimes in the middle of the night, and if they’re in First Nation villages it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get supplies.
Twice in the past year and a half, the Berry Patch Child Care Resource Centre in Prince Rupert has organized localized emergency kits designed for different age categories starting from zero to six months, up to six years old.
“It’s just a little emergency supplies with items that would support the children. Also some more general house supplies, toothbrush, blanket stuffed toy, books, something more comforting,” said Judy Riddell, Berry Patch program manager.
But it’s more than just supplies. The first time they put together the backpacks, they added a little quilt by the Quilters Guild.
This time, they’ve added tiny moccasins, pinned to the backpacks.
“They attached a little message to say they’re important and we care about you,” Riddell said.
In the first week of June they distributed 57 backpacks to the Northwest Inter-Nation Family and Community Services Society and half to Ministry of Children and Family Development in Prince Rupert.
Grade 6 Annunciation School teacher, Rebecca Brooke, involved her students in the backpack project after learning that a high school student was looking for people to donate items for infant backpacks that she was putting together.
“My Grade 6 class raised some money and we went down to Walmart and went shopping for some of these items, which was a great learning experience for them. We packed them up and we brought them to the high school and hopefully they’ll go somewhere where someone really needs it,” Brooke said.
From moccasins to backpacks, students hands to infant feet, the project has touched the minds and hearts of everyone involved.