OTTAWA – Whether First Nations children in Canada completely understood the seriousness of the ruling made by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) yesterday or not, they are still winners.
The Tribunal found the Canadian government to have racially discriminated against 163,000 First Nations children and their families.
The government currently does not provide balanced child welfare services and also fails to implement Jordan’s Principle — a child-first principle used in Canada to resolve jurisdictional disputes between governments, regarding payment for government services provided to First Nations children.
“Today the kids win. Today the children are put first,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “This ruling is nine years in the making. That is a full generation of children waiting for justice and fairness, not to mention the decades of discrimination that has created the gap between First Nations and Canadians. First Nations are ready to work together with the federal government to develop a new system of child and family services as directed by the CHRT, and this includes immediate relief funding for First Nations children and families and a new collaborative approach to a funding formula that is responsive to needs, reflective of regional diversity and respects fundamental human rights. We cannot wait any longer to close the gap, and I look forward to seeing how the next federal budget will support safety, fairness and equity for First Nations children and families.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) listed child welfare equity and reform as its top Call to Action as there are more First Nations children in foster care today than at the height of the residential school era.
The Tribunal found that the federal funding formula provides the 105 First Nations child and family services agencies across Canada with fewer resources than their provincial counterparts. The funding shortfall sits between 22 and 34 per cent less than what other children receive.
It was found that federal funding formulas and policies create a perverse incentive to place First Nations children in foster care and do not address the cultural needs of children.
Chief Bellegarde said that with such a stark difference in funding, it’s near impossible for the First Nations child services to give proper care and attention to their children.
“We want them to have the same opportunity as others,” he said. “This great country has no room for discrimination and racism.”
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society, said that if children don’t receive proper care then they are at a much higher risk of having mental health problems, addictions and more. It just turned out that the statistics favoured non-indigenous children.
All of the documentation supporting Blackstock’s claims are available on her website, www.fncaringsociety.com.
In its decisions, the Tribunal said that the panel recognizes those First Nations children and families who are or have been adversely impacted by the Government of Canada’s past and current child welfare practices on reserve and ordered Ottawa to cease its discriminatory practices and to immediately implement the full meaning and scope of Jordan’s Principle.
“On behalf of Six Nations Elected Council, I want to commend the Assembly of First Nations and the Family Caring Society for bringing this crucial human rights complaint forward,” said Chief Ava Hill. “At long last, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has made the right decision.”
Hill is hopeful that the precedent set by this case will urge the federal government to address and remedy other areas of inequity that disproportionately affect First Nation’s children and families, including education, health and housing.
Blackstock sees this as an opportunity to fix the system and address obvious needs, but acknowledges the risk that all these big words may indeed just be big words, yet hopes that is not the case.
“I will not give up until they do the right thing,” she said. “At the end of the day, Canada needs to respond to its obligations towards little kids.”
Blackstock was the driving force behind the initial complaint of funding inequities and she received backlash from media and individuals who refused to believe the claims. After the decision was made and the claims were verified, she feels it was all worthwhile.
“It’s been worth it, it has all been worth it,” she said. “I need to see things happen for the kids, change isn’t in a decision it is in their childhoods. God help us at least do that.”