Child welfare activist says Canada is failing aboriginal children

March 11, 2014 - 4:36pm
Cindy Blackstock.
Cindy Blackstock.

It was standing room only at Convocation Hall at the University of Saskatchewan Monday night as child welfare advocate Cindy Blackstock took the stage.

As the executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, Blackstock along with the Assembly of First Nations filed a human rights complaint against the Federal government in 2007, which alleges that Canada discriminates against First Nations children by consistently under funding child welfare on reserves.

"I still can't get over that. I walk into that tribunal room and we are about to hear Canada present its side of the case and I am so looking forward to seeing how they explain this because in my view the evidence is overwhelming that they are discriminating against First Nation children in child welfare," Blackstock said explaining that the Federal Government will begin their case March 17.

Since the complaint was filed the federal government has tried multiple times to derail the case challenging the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Act to deal with the complaint. The Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the challenges and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal began hearing evidence last February 2013.

"We are going to see this case through until the end. I think the evidence before the tribunal is very strong and I don't know how they will decide," Blackstock said.

"But I do know that we will never give up until these kids have had some day in justice because I don't want to see Canada ever have another Prime Minister rise in the House of Commons to apologize for this generation of kids. No First Nations, Metis, Inuit or non-Aboriginal children should ever have to grow up in this country and have to recover from their childhoods again."

Before the tribunal resumes next Monday Blackstock stopped in at the UofS to give the 2014 Wunusweh Lecture.

"If you are a First Nations child in Saskatchewan you are 12 times more likely to end up in foster care than a non aboriginal child. What some (people) may not understand is that that over representation is not driven by abuse," Blackstock explained.

"It is driven by poverty, poor housing and substance misuse linked back to residential schools. All things we can do something about."

Blackstock explained that income is the biggest predictor of whether a family will end up in the child welfare system. In Saskatchewan, 80 per cent of children in out-of-home care are Aboriginal.

"I think that we need to as a society understand that we are far better off economically and socially investing in these families so that they are not in these high risk situations then in taking their kids into foster care and placing them in sometimes multiple foster homes," Blackstock said.

"I think one of the biggest things that people don't understand, although provincial child welfare, education, and health laws apply equally on and off reserve the federal government funds services on reserve... As Sheila Fraser and other auditor generals have found it's consistently lower levels than all other Canadians enjoy."

Blackstock said the under funding on reserves is leading to other trends like high dropout rates, high numbers of children in child welfare, and high addiction rates on reserve.

"It's because they are not getting the same opportunities that other Canadian children deserve," she said, adding that children need to come before governmental funding procedures.

"Should a child be receiving less or be denied services because of who they are? Regardless of whatever confusion the governments seem to have, they are adults. There is absolutely no excuse to me that a child in Canada does not have clean water, does not have sanitation, does not have a proper education, does not have the same opportunity to grow up in their families. It's unacceptable in a nation as wealthy as ours. If there are jurisdictional matters that get in the way of that then fix it."

As the final phase of the tribunal begins Blackstock said that she doesn't know what the outcome will be but she said that continuing to ignore the needs of First Nations children could have profound affects.

"A sustainable culture, a sustainable country, and a sustainable economy depends on the healthy generations that follow you. We are going to be leaving them a Canada that none of us should feel proud of," she said.

"We started out with about one per cent of First Nations children in child welfare care. Then it went up to 20 per cent... then up to 80 per cent and nobody said when do we press the alarm bell?... We normalize it and that's a great disservice to those kids because there is nothing normal about being 12 times more likely to be in foster care in a province as good and great and wealthy as this one."

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