Our Nations’ children are not only being failed through a lack of equal opportunities to education, but also through a lack of culturally appropriate and inadequately resourced child welfare structures to protect and keep our children in our communities.
There are many reasons why there are more First Nation children in care today as there were during the residential school era. The gross inequities of funding and resources deny First Nation families the same opportunities that are provided to other non First Nation families in Canada to safely care for their children. There is not enough funding provided to address the most important needs including prevention and family support. These services would provide the integral tools for families to heal and move forward to provide care for their own families in a culturally suitable manner. First Nations youth population is growing at such a rapid rate that it surpasses that of the growing population of both the province and the country, yet there continues to be a gross disparity in the resources provided for First Nation child welfare services.
Many children get tied up in the system, and even when parents have made the effort for improvement, administration and protocols prevent their children from immediately returning home. Key to addressing these concerns is supporting the exercise of First Nations jurisdiction over child welfare and the implementation of customary care that suits each individual community needs.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) contains three Articles (Article 2, 7, 22) that relate directly to the protection of Indigenous children and their right to be free from any kind of discrimination.
Canadian Human Rights Tribunal
In 2007, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) involving the inadequate funding of child welfare services on reserve. They are arguing that the Canadian government racially discriminates against First Nations children by not providing adequate funding of child welfare services on reserve, which are at levels less than what non-Aboriginal children have access to in the provinces and territories.
The Chiefs of Ontario has intervenor status on this complaint, the objective of which is to ensure that the special circumstances of First Nation child welfare in Ontario, including the impact of 1965 Welfare Agreement, are brought forward in the proceeding.
The CHRT ruling dismissed the complaint in March 2011, on the basis of legal technicalities. The CHRT has refused to compare two different service providers (federal and provincial governments) who deliver services to two different service recipients (on reserve children and off reserve non-Aboriginal children). A judicial review of the CHRT’s decision was brought to the Federal Court, who supported the positions taken by First Nations in April 2012, and overturned the original Tribunal ruling.
On May 18, 2012 the federal government filed a “Notice of Appeal” to the Federal Court of Canada. An appeal process could take up to approximately one year. Updates on this very important and historic case will be provided as progress occurs.
This case raises important issues for First Nation child welfare programs, and the federal delivery of First Nation programs as a whole, as it challenges the federal government under the Canadian Human Rights Act to meet provincial standards.
To show your support, please visit the “I am a witness” campaign at http://www.fncfcs.com/fnwitness#be-a-witness
Our Dreams Matter Too
The report “Our Dreams Matter Too: First Nations children’s rights, lives, and education” compiles letters written by First Nations and non-First Nations youth voicing their concerns on the inequities which exist in education, child welfare, and support services for First Nations youth on reserve. Their concerns were shared with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to request a review of Canada’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and explore the inequities experienced by First Nations children.
In addition to letters from youth, the report shares observations on the impact of the inequities and recommendations to move forward.