Cindy Blackstock lecture to focus on First Nations children

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      During her organization’s work to educate nonaboriginal children about inequities faced by First Nations, Cindy Blackstock credits a nine-year-old with producing the best definition of discrimination she’s heard.

      “She said: 'Discrimination is when the government doesn’t think you’re worth the money,'” Blackstock told the Straight by phone. “So imagine what it’s like to be one of those kids who’s not worth the money.”

      A recent Human Rights Tribunal hearing on First Nations child welfare in Canada included testimony detailing examples of children who didn’t have access to the same supports as kids living off-reserve. One case involved a four-year-old who needed a hospital bed to be home with her family for Christmas.

      “A volunteer in the hospital actually paid for the bed so that this little girl could get the support she needed…because the federal government just was fighting back and forth between itself and didn’t appear to be willing to resolve it,” Blackstock said.

      The long-time child advocate intends to talk about similar cases during a public lecture at the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch on January 15.

      The Gitksan Nation member, who is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and an associate professor at the University of Alberta, said children living on-reserve receive fewer public services than other kids.

      “The reason for that is that provincial laws, like child welfare and education and health, apply on reserves, but the federal government is supposed to fund those services,” she stated. “And as auditor generals have found over the years, the federal government routinely underfunds those services by a significant portion.”

      The hearing on First Nations child welfare stemmed from a complaint filed by Blackstock’s organization and the Assembly of First Nations in 2007, alleging that the federal government’s provision of First Nations child and family services is inequitable and discriminatory.

      “Even if we just relied on their own documents, we can see that the federal government, behind its talking points, is very clearly acknowledging the discrimination, knows that it’s resulting in harm to children, and yet is failing to do something about it,” Blackstock said.

      According to the advocate, First Nations children also face underfunding for other services, such as education, health, and housing. The “compound effect” of the inequalities is what concerns her the most.

      “I think that’s the most damaging thing: is everywhere you turn, to be getting less, and sadly to be judged by most Canadians, who get a steady diet of spin from the government, as if you’re getting more,” she said.

      During her lecture, Blackstock intends to suggest that Canadians stop using the word “complex” during discussions about First Nations people.

      “These are not complex issues,” she said. “If I applied this regime of discrimination to any other population in Canada, their kids would not be doing well in a few years.”

      “If we know better and can do better for kids, we should do better,” she continued. “In this case, we know better, we can do better, and we’re not doing it better. And Canadians have a chance to send that message to the government to say you need to change course, because we’re not about to be a country that has to apologize for the way it treats First Nations kids in 2015 again—not when we don’t have to.”

      A decision from Canada’s Human Rights Tribunal is expected this spring. Blackstock’s free public lecture will take place at 350 West Georgia Street at 7 p.m.



      Spare me

      Jan 12, 2015 at 8:47am

      All social services are underfunded, not just those for registered indians.
      We have a crisis, and special-interest politics like this, trying to claw at funds for the sake of one's own in-group (or for the sake of a group one feels guilt in relation to) is bad, 20th century nonsense.

      21st century solutions are things like guaranteed incomes for everyone, not race-baiting.