Human Rights Tribunal opens door for First Nations children

Canadians have so much to be proud of, yet there is still a lot of inequity to be addressed.  This is all the more obvious now that a Human Rights Tribunal ruling has confirmed what many of us have known for years - that First Nations children are not receiving the same treatment and government support that other children in our nation enjoy.   The landmark ruling states that the federal government discriminated against First Nations’ children by providing less money for child welfare on reserve. 

The findings come nine years after complaints from the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.  Part of what took so long was a concentrated effort to discredit activist Cindy Blackstock.

Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society has been a tireless campaigner for this issue and deserves significant praise for her work.  She was among Stephen Harper’s fiercest critics and any attention she received from that government was negative. Whether it was harassment from a senior official inside the office of the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs or surveillance by Justice Canada, Blackstock’s resolve remained steadfast throughout her struggle to level a very tilted playing field.

The Conservative government spent $5.3 million in legal fees in their attempt to have the human rights case dismissed and then spent more to appeal the ruling when it didn’t go their way.  That said, the problem goes further back across consecutive administrations and includes a Liberal government that instituted the unfair and restrictive 2% funding cap on First Nations.  By using an access to information request, Blackstock uncovered an attempt by the government to hide 100,000 documents related to the case.  There was a concentrated effort to stymie the claim and the reason is simple: the government just didn’t want to provide welfare services for children in First Nations at the same rate as they do in our towns and cities.  It is a stark realization and points to a systemic effort to frustrate the opportunities of these children, which is shameful.

Now that we have the facts, the question of how it will be rectified is upon us.  We are just weeks away from a federal budget that should be used as a launching pad to address this inequity.  For years, New Democrats have been calling on successive governments to remove the punitive funding cap and invest in the well-being of First Nations children.  The Tribunal confirms that it is time for the government to do the right thing and put the well-being of these children first by ending systemic discrimination.

In the words of Cindy Blackstock, “Children only get one childhood. They can’t wait for studies. They shouldn’t have to wait for studies. The government knows what to do for this generation of children, they just have to get down and do it and they know it from their own documents. I pray we can finally use this as a nation to end racial discrimination that is happening in this country. This is our Mississippi.”