By Cindy Blackstock and Andrea Auger
On June 11, 2008, the prime minister apologized for the wrongful removal of aboriginal children during the residential school period. But what good is saying sorry if ill-advised federal government policies continue to contribute to the removal of First Nations children at record levels?
Since the apology, many Canadians have become more aware of the social issues stemming from the residential school system. Despite the growing knowledge of this tainted history, most Canadians are unaware of the inequalities that continue to exist for aboriginal peoples, especially for First Nations peoples living on reserve.
In her 2008 report, the auditor general of Canada found that First Nations children on reserve receive less child welfare funding than other children in Canada. This finding was reaffirmed by the standing committee on public accounts in a 2009 report. The funding shortfalls are particularly acute in the range of services intended to keep children safely at home, therefore resulting in neglect as the number one reason why children are removed. As a result, there are more First Nations children in child welfare care today than at the height of residential schools by a factor of three. The inequities do not stop at child welfare but also cross over into education funding, housing, health-care funding, and publicly funded voluntary sector supports.
Although First Nations and the federal government developed two evidence-based solutions to address the inequality in child welfare funding, they have not been implemented by the federal government.
In 2007, the Assembly of First Nations and First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada filed a complaint against the federal government, alleging that Canada was racially discriminating against First Nations children by providing a lesser standard of child welfare funding to First Nations children in comparison to what other children receive.
In the fall of 2009, the complaint will go to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. It will be the first time in history that Canada is being held accountable for its current treatment and unequal funding of basic services to First Nations children.
It is essential that caring Canadians and organizations actively watch the tribunal so they can make up their own minds about whether Canada is treating First Nations children fairly. One of the greatest protections for First Nations children is when caring Canadians, organizations, and peoples of the world send the message to the federal government that it is watching over First Nations children.
Another aspect of this case is that Canada is using taxpayer dollars to fund the case, as well as lawyers from the residential school division of the Department of Justice to argue it. The assembly and the society have no funds other than what community members have donated, so financial support is much needed.
In times of fiscal restraint, it is challenging for individuals and organizations to help out financially. But Canadians can make a difference for free and in only 15 minutes if they:
1. Be a witness to the human rights complaint.
2. Support Jordan’s Principle.
3. Join Amnesty International.
4. Help the children of Attawapiskat, Ontario, get a new school.
5. Support the Touchstones of Hope to reshape child welfare.
6. Engage young people by supporting for the Declaration of Accountability on the Ethical Engagement of Young People and Adults in Canadian Organizations.
7. Support Many Hands, One Dream to improve aboriginal healthcare.
Recently, we celebrated the National Day of Reconciliation, marking the first anniversary of the apology on residential schools. We hope that this case is successful so that reconciliation can be put into action on a national level and not simply be an empty promise. We hope that this is the time to learn from the past, to redress the harm in the best way possible, and to move forward together in a mutually respectful way.
Cindy Blackstock is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
Andrea Auger is the society’s Caring Across the Boundaries coordinator.