The Federal Court ruling on April 18 was the first victory in a year-long battle to acknowledge the discrimination of First Nations children in the welfare system. Though the fight is far from over, Cindy Blackstock is showing no signs of quitting.

Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS), has been fighting for recognition since her organization and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) first filed the suit in 2007. Since then Blackstock has faced criticism, had her Facebook account monitored and been followed in attempt to discredit her.

The Federal Court decided that there needed to be more scrutiny to see if the federal government is short-changing First Nations children in the welfare system. This decision strikes down an earlier ruling made by the now former head of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Shirish Chotalia, who ruled in favour of the federal government. Chotalia recently took a leave of absence and is under investigation for harassment of two former employees; the Conservative-appointed chairperson had nearly half her staff quit or take sick leave in her first year as chair.

Blackstock has been called a hero for her unwavering defiance against what she believes is stealing from children. “Sheila Fraser and numerous other experts have pointed out that the federal whose job it is to fund the services for First Nations children to a far lesser level,” she said.

Blackstock and her allies have been telling the federal government of the disparity, but to no avail. In 2007, with the help of the AFN, the FNCFCS took the government to court on the basis that they were discriminating against First Nations children.

“Since then the federal government has used every legal loophole to derail a hearing on the facts, including two failed court challenges.”

However, the federal government was successful when Chotalia ruled in their favour, which led to the Federal Court sending the case back to the Human Rights Commission. Justice Anne Mactavish, who issued the ruling, said the case was substantial and needed to be heard. She also had some harsh words for Chotalia.

“What we’re talking about here are little children. All we want is for them to have the same culturally based opportunities and to grow up safely with their families like all other Canadians. Yet the government of Canada is doing everything in its power to avoid a hearing on its merits,” stated Mactavish.

Blackstock feels that the government is worried about the Auditor General’s reports that confirm the inequality and the government’s own documents that go even further to confirm the harm the children are facing.

First Nations children in child welfare right now drastically outnumber the children who went to residential schools. Blackstock says that when these children grow up they may end up knocking on the government’s door asking for compensation for being put in child welfare for no reason. Right now Blackstock sees the government doing the wrong thing by First Nations children and that Canada may end up apologizing twice.

Currently the FNCFCS and the AFN are planning the next step and that is to present the facts at the Canadian Human Rights Commission which will have a whole new panel. While Blackstock fears that Ottawa will appeal the decision, she and her allies are prepared to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. If the government’s previous actions are any indication, the fight is just getting started.

Irkar Beljaars is the producer of Red Power Radio, a biweekly podcast. mohawk_voice (twitter)