A story we cover this week suggests that the residential school era may only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Native children.
Foster-care placement of Aboriginal children in Canada today is actually three times the number of children who were sent to residential school in an average year, according to a lawsuit launched by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCS). In fact, one of every 10 Native children is in foster care, compared to only 1% of non-Native kids.
Cindy Blackstock of the FNCFCS says that could be partly due to the fact that Indian and Northern Affairs Canada spends far less on child welfare for Native children – 22% less – than the provinces spend helping ensure non-Native kids grow up in healthy homes. Neither does INAC fund programs that would help Native children safely stay with their real parents.
Removal of children from their families should be a last resort, Blackstock says. But given that 36,000 First Nations children have been taken from their parents, it looks more like the first option for INAC bureaucrats.
Underfunding for prevention measures worsens this situation. Even some provincial governments have protested INAC’s insufficient funding, saying it does not permit most First Nations to meet statutory obligations under provincial legislation.
It also raises concerns that Canada may be in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Among others, this convention guarantees the right to non-discrimination (which relates to other children receiving more and better services), the preservation of families and Indigenous culture.
INAC may also be in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Liberties because residents of a province in similar circumstances receive significantly better services. The First Nations Child and Family Services document says the government of Canada could be sued for the “neglect or abuse suffered by children in care.”
One vivid example of this abuse would include little Kayden Ottereyes in Waswanipi, who was beaten almost to death by his foster father. Inadequate services include not checking the qualifications or properly evaluating and training potential foster-care parents.
After the FNCFCS filed a complaint at the Canadian Human Rights Commission over this apparent discrimination in 2008, the Harper government cut all funding to the organization. The Assembly of First Nations, which is a co-complainant, likewise had funding for its Child and Family Services department cut by 85% less than a month after the complaint was filed.
Now, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal chairperson has delayed hearings on the complaint because INAC is suing to have the case dismissed.
In an ironic move the Feds have even used lawyers from the Residential School Division to fight this case.
As a person who was sent to Horden Hall, a residential school that many Crees attended, I can only imagine the future harm this issue will cause First Nations communities. In addition to the impacts of residential schools, First Nations will be faced with an entire new set of intergenerational problems that will not go away any time soon.
The Grand Council of the Crees and indeed all chiefs should support the AFN on this issue. A united front to protect our children is more important now than ever. The actions undertaken and that continue to this day demand nothing less than our best efforts to fight this 21st century attempt at assimilation by attrition.