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Syilx Okanagan Nation Calls for Full Scale Overhaul of Ministry of Children and Family Development in Light of Saunders Case

October 7th, 2021

tkwəɬniwt (Westbank), Syilx Territory:  The Syilx Okanagan Nation is extremely disappointed by the recent plea deal that was struck for Robert Riley Saunders — a long standing Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) social worker later found to be uncertified and who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from Indigenous children on Syilx territory. Saunders was charged with just three of the thirteen charges issued against him, including only one case of fraud.

Such a gross display of behavior with few repercussions highlights the need for a comprehensive and systemic overhaul of the MCFD to ensure that our children receive the best support possible.  We demand accountability be taken and that best practices are put into action in a way that ensures the highest standard of care for Indigenous children.

“MCFD needs to take accountability for their complete failure in following through with their due diligence in ensuring they were hiring a true certified worker. They must put quality measures in place to ensure that such cases as these do not continue to take place. They need provide the structures that ensure that there are qualified, quality staff in place. Cases like that of Mr. Saunders puts children’s care at risk and a brings forward the need for more inclusion and participation by Syilx families and communities in the care of Syilx children,” stated y̓il̓mixʷm (Chief) Greg Gabriel, Syilx Child and Family Governance Representative…”Every Child Matters”

The Government of BC has feebly attempted to have accountability of MCFD with the creation of the BC Representative for Children and Youth (RCY).  We know that the RCY has published many reports with recommendations, most of which has not been action by the MCFD.  All children deserve the absolute best care, we call on the Government of BC to ensure this is completed now, no more apologies. To date the MCFD has not clearly stated whether they have contacted all the youth who were harmed by Saunders, and whether all entitled youths have received supports.

“The Saunders case has added to the long standing deep rooted history of ongoing injustices and systemic racism that our people suffer at the hands of MCFD. The atrocities our children, youth and families face on a daily basis by MCFD’s lack of quality assurances and cultural appropriateness persists on a daily basis.  There is a distinct parallel of MCFD’s ongoing wilful ignorance of the harms to our people by their system and the ongoing wilful ignorance of the government to recognize the truth of Indian Residential Schools and the real actions required for true reconciliation. The systems purporting to serve the “best interests” of our children and families requires a full-scale overhaul to transform the horrific outcomes our people experience.”  Jennifer Lewis, ONA Wellness Manager stated.


The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) was formed in 1981 as the Tribal government for the Syilx Okanagan Nation.  The ONA”s mandate is to advance assert, support and preserve Syilx Okanagan Title and Rights.  Further, the ONA is charged with the forum to bring forward numerous interests and form positions on areas of common concern.  For more info on ONA’s Children and Families work, please visit:


For information please contact:

y̓il̓mixʷm (Chief) Clarence Louie, ONA Tribal Chair
T: 250-498-9132

y̓il̓mixʷm (Chief) Greg Gabriel, Penticton Indian Band, Syilx Child and Family Governance Representative
T: 250-490-7250