Cindy Blackstock’s victory for First Nations children

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.

Since the June release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s preliminary report on the history of Indian residential schools, there has been heightened talk about how non-Indigenous Canadians can become better neighbours to those who are indigenous. Now, a ruling issued by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) on January 26 provides yet another illustration of the shared road ahead.

The CHRT was responding to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which — along with the Assembly of First Nations — initiated a complaint in 2007. Although the process was long and arduous, the tribunal eventually ruled that Ottawa’s funding formulas provide between 22 and 34 percent less to child welfare services for First Nations people. That’s compared to what provincial governments pay for similar services provided to other children. It’s a discriminatory practice that has gone on for as long as anyone can remember.

Cindy Blackstock

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the Child and Family Caring Society, has been the most prominent advocate in the case. Blackstock says that the discrimination means services are fewer — and often of lesser quality — on reserves. And there’s another consequence of discriminatory funding models: it creates an incentive to place children in foster care because their communities and families have fewer resources to provide needed services for them.

As a result, says Blackstock, there are more First Nations children in foster care today than there were at the height of the residential school era. The excellent Globe and Mail columnist Andre Picard writes, “[This] is a continuation of racist (and in some cases genocidal) policies like the Indian Act, residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.”

Blackstock estimates that the Harper government spent more than $5 million dollars fighting the technicalities of her group’s allegations before the tribunal. But it didn’t stop there. Government employees were ordered to collect personal information about her and spy on her. In response, Blackstock submitted a complaint to Canada’s privacy commissioner, who concluded that, indeed, her privacy had been invaded. She then launched a second complaint concerning the harassment by government officials. In 2015, the Aboriginal Affairs department was ordered to pay her $20,000 for the pain and suffering that they caused her. Blackstock gave the money to children’s charities.

Good neighbours can help

Regarding the funding of child welfare services, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has the power to order Ottawa to end its discriminatory practices. But it has not yet done so. Meanwhile, the initial response from Liberal cabinet ministers to the ruling has been positive. Ministers Carolyn Bennett Jody Wilson-Raybould, welcomed the tribunal’s decision and promised to work, collaboratively, toward solutions. “This government agrees that we can and must do better,” they said.

During the federal election campaign last fall, the Liberals promised to work with First Nations to tackle their many challenges. They also promised to implement all 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Despite these expressions of goodwill, however, politicians will likely do only what Canadians will support — and that’s where good neighbours can help.

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This article was published as a blog with the United Church Observer on January, 28, 2016. 

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament

5 thoughts on “Cindy Blackstock’s victory for First Nations children”

  1. I teach for First Nations University in Prince Albert. I see a better future for First Nations now that Harper is gone. He actually scared me. On the other hand Trudeau going to La Loche demonstrated a concern that gives everyone hope.

  2. I want to see change. I want to see more investment in education for First Nations. The big picture thing here is poverty. Changing the economic condition is the answer. The more that is invested into the First Nations community the better in the long run. The results will take time. In some instances you are breaking the chain of despair that has been going on in some families for generations.
    Housing is another initiative. If people could see some of the conditions they would be shocked. Things that we take for granted such as clean drinkable water.

  3. When our team at CBC was putting together the “8th Fire” series, we booked an interview with Cindy Blackstock. It was a rushed affair as she was, as always, on the fly. The crew, a seasoned collection of hardened pro’s who had worked around the world, were grumpy because they had to shoot in a boring hotel room with no chance to make the shoot look good. But at the end of the interview, that crew, overwhelmed by the power of Cindy’s words, in an unprecedented move, stood up and applauded her loudly.

    Cindy for Prime Minister I say.

  4. Good piece Dennis. The problem began after the Second World War when the Indian Act was amended to make provincial laws of general application apply on reserve despite the fact that Section 24 of the Constitutional Act says that the federal government has the exclusive authority/responsibility for Indians. It was a result of this change that provincial child welfare legislation was deemed to apply on reserve. While this Human Rights case is a great victory, it doesn;t solve the jurisdictional problem: child welfare is provincial and the federal government does not pay for provincial services except in Ontario where a 1965 agreement applies.

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