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Discrimination Against First Nations Children in Canada

    August 05, 2015

    “My culture is my identity,” says Colleen Cardinal. “This is what has been denied to me.”

    The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has helped shine a light on the horrendous and lasting harm done by tearing Indigenous children from their families, their communities, their languages and their cultures.

    Critically, as the TRC report itself highlights, the uprooting of Indigenous children was not limited to the Residential School Programme.

    For decades, Indigenous families having difficulties providing adequate care for their children - whether as a result of impoverishment, the intergenerational consequences of abuses suffered in residential schools, or other social and economic stresses -  have been denied the help they need.

    June 08, 2015

    Last week, a summary report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission described Canada’s Residential Schools as “part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will.”

    The statement affirms something that is now well-established –and which was, in fact, acknowledged in Canada’s official apology to residential school survivors.

    Quite simply, the residential school policy had at its heart an insidious agenda to eradicate First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples as distinct cultures, societies and nation. And the tragic effects of the harm that was done --  including the terrible deprivations and abuses inflicted on so many of the girls and boys who were torn from their families and communities to attend these schools, as well as the loss of language, community cohesion and cultural knowledge and skills -- continue to be felt today.

    February 09, 2015
    Have a Heart Day at the University of Regina

    This week, communities across Canada are speaking out for the future of First Nations children and youth.

    The annual Have a Heart Day campaign (on and around February 14th) is an opportunity for ordinary Canadians to show their support for basic principles of fairness and equity.

    The campaign was launched by our friends at the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society in response to the shocking gap in basic government services – including education, healthcare and family services – facing many First Nations children and families on reserves.

    This year’s Have a Heart Day campaign is particularly timely.

    In the coming weeks, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will rule whether the federal government’s persistent underfunding of family services on reserves is a form of discrimination. The complaint was launched by the Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations in response to the large numbers of First Nations children being put into foster care because on reserve children’s didn’t have the resources  carry out less drastic forms of intervention.

    June 09, 2014

    By Craig Benjamin, Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples

    A few years ago I heard a young First Nations woman describing the unsafe drinking water, the poor quality school and other conditions that she faced every day growing up in her home community. “What did we do to be treated like this?” she asked.

    In most communities in Canada, government services like education, health care and family services are provided by a combination of municipal and provincial governments. However, in the case of First Nations people living on reserves these services are instead funded through the federal government.

    Critically, study after study has shown that federal funding for basic services on reserves routinely falls short of what is required to provide First Nations families with access to the same quality of services--  like education and health care -- enjoyed other communities in Canada.
    Here’s what the Auditor General of Canada had to say about the situation in 2011:

    May 12, 2014

    by Craig Benjamin,
    Indigenous Rights Campaigner, Amnesty International Canada

    A leading United Nations human rights expert says the situation of First Nations, Inuit and Métis in Canada has reached "crisis proportions in many respects."

    In a just released report, James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, highlights a wide range of concerns documented during his 2013 research mission to Canada.

    January 31, 2014
    Amnesty members in Regina taking part in the annual Have a Heart Day campaign.

    Every child has the right grow up safely at home, get a good education, be healthy, and be proud of who they are.

    It’s hard to imagine anyone disagreeing.

    Yet year after year, First Nations children are denied these basic rights.

    For most children in Canada, health care, education and family services are funding through the provincial or territorial governments. But for First Nations children on reserves, these same services are funded by the federal government.

    Numerous studies - including reports by the Auditor General - confirm the Federal government provides less funding per child for services First Nations children on reserves than the provinces provide for children in their jurisdictions.

    This is despite often higher costs of delivering such services in small and remote communities, and the greater need experienced by many First Nations communities.



    The math is simple: less money plus higher costs = inadequate services for those who need them most.

    March 12, 2013

    The Federal Court of Appeal has firmly rejected government efforts to shut down an important inquiry into discrimination against First Nations children.

    The case concerns the well-established fact that the federal government allocates less funding per child for family services in First Nations reserves than its provincial counterparts provide in other communities.

    In 2007, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal began hearings into the case this year. If the Tribunal agrees that this underfunding is discriminatory, the Tribunal has the power to order the government to change its policies.

    The federal government has argued that its funding of services in First Nations communities is outside the scope of the Human Rights Act. At one point, the government succeeded in having the case thrown out by the Tribunal, but the Federal Court reversed the decision and ordered new hearings.

    February 07, 2013

    Amnesty International members across Canada have responded enthusiastically to the call to “Have a Heart” for First Nations children.

    “Have a Heart” is an annual campaign organized by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada that takes place on and around Valentine’s Day, February 14th.

    The campaign’s message is simple: First Nations children have the right grow up safely at home, get a good education, be healthy, and be proud of their cultures. And getting involved can be as easy as sending a card or letter with this message to the Prime Minister or your Member of Parliament.

    Amnesty members across Canada are already writing letters, on their own, with family and friends, and in larger public events.

    November 30, 2012

    "Today is a bright day for First Nations children. The evidence of discrimination in the delivery of basic child welfare services, and the terrible consequences for First Nations children will finally be given the serious consideration that it deserves." - Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society

    The Federal Court has ruled that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal was in error when it refused to examine evidence of whether a well-established pattern of federal underfunding of child welfare and child protection services in First Nations reserves is discriminatory.

    In doing so, the Court firmly rejected the federal government’s arguments that the issue was effectively outside the scope of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

    This may finally clear the way for a full hearing into this landmark case.

    May 22, 2012

    When it comes to child welfare services in First Nations communities, the federal government spends 22 percent less per child than its provincial counterparts provide in other communities. This is despite often greater needs and the higher costs of delivering services in small and remote communities. The federal underfunding of First Nations children’s services has created a crisis situation in which First Nations children are much more likely to be put into foster care because the supports necessary to meet their needs in their own homes and communities simply aren’t available.

    The federal government’s longstanding failure to close the funding gap led the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society to file a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act in 2007. Five years later, there still hasn’t been a hearing into the evidence.

    Dr. Cindy Blackstock, a member of the Gitxan Nation, is a prominent researcher and advocate for the rights of children. As Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Cindy has brought a landmark discrimination case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to challenge the federal government’s chronic underfunding of children’s services on First Nations reserves and for First Nations children in the Yukon. The closing arguments in that hearing will take place October 20-24 and will be webcast live at fnwitness.ca.

    We spoke with Cindy as part of a series of conversation with Indigenous advocates and leaders to mark the 10th anniversary of Amnesty International’s report Stolen Sisters: A Human Rights Response to Discrimination and Violence against Indigenous Women in Canada.

    It’s a crucial moment for human rights in Canada. And you can be part of it.

    From October 20-24, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will hear the closing arguments in a history-making case on equity for First Nations children.

    At issue is whether the federal government has discriminated against First Nations children living on reserves, and in the Yukon, by consistently providing less money per child for family services than its provincial counterparts provide in predominantly non-Aboriginal communities.

    At stake is the ability of children’s agencies to provide urgently needed prevention programs for at risk First Nations children and to stem the unprecedented numbers of First Nations children being taken from their families and communities and put into state care.

    The human rights complaint was initiated by a national non-governmental organization, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the Caring Society, recently told Amnesty International,

    First Nations children have the right grow up safely at home, get a good education, be healthy, and be proud of their cultures

    It’s an obvious truth but it’s far from being a reality.

    As the Auditor General of Canada and many others have noted, the Federal government provides less funding per child for many services for First Nations children on reserves than the Provinces provide for children in their jurisdictions. This is despite often higher costs of delivering such services in small and remote communities, and the greater need experienced by many First Nations communities.

    The result of the denial of basic rights that most people in Canada take for granted.

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