Six years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released 94 Calls to Action, a gift from residential school survivors on how Canada could begin to walk toward forgiveness and equity in this country.
Those 94 calls were penned after the TRC heard from more than 6,000 survivors and witnesses about the horrors of Indian residential schools. Hearts, minds and memories were ripped open as stories were told and each awful detail relived. The schools were church run and government funded. The last one closed in 1996.
The very first call to action concerns child welfare. It asks all governments to commit to reducing the number of children in care. Indigenous kids make up about 7 per cent of all kids under 14 in Canada, yet they make up half of all children in state care.
Our children are born under the staggering weight of history, and they did not ask for this. They did not ask to be thrust into the violence of colonial policies that took them off their lands and away from their parents, and sent them to schools where they were beaten for speaking their language, and worse.
Conservatively, 6,000 of our children died at the schools. They were sexually abused, starved, beaten to death, murdered by neglect or by others.
Our families have been torn apart by racist policies such as the Indian Act that sent them to the schools and have continued to keep them less than worthy in all parts of Canadian society.
When those schools closed, child welfare agencies stepped in and scooped our children up.
They continue to do so.
That the Canadian government has received 20 non-compliance orders from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for not equitably funding First Nations kids is abhorrent.
When will this country stop treating Indigenous children as less than every other child?
Canada – your abuse against First Nations children continues.
We see this “less than” measure everywhere – in education, many First Nations children in remote communities still don’t have high schools to attend in the year 2021. As well, First Nations children are often underfunded in their college and university studies – even though this is a right recognized in many treaties.
Once again, “less than” reared its ugly head this past Friday.
In a surprising positive move, Canada said it will ensure all First Nations children recognized by their nations will get support under Jordan’s Principle, a child-first policy that aims to abolish inequities and service delays for First Nations children.
At the same time, Canada said it will fight tooth and nail against the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations – as they have for 15 years – regarding compensation and who gets it.
Of course, Canada is fighting about money – about the possibility of paying $40,000 to each child torn away from their families unnecessarily by child welfare because of the colour of their skin. Make no mistake, race-based colonial policies of genocide got us here.
This money could be used to ease, just a bit, the trauma of stolen childhoods.
Many times, our children were plucked out of their communities because there isn’t adequate health care, housing, mental health and social services to support children and families in crisis in most First Nations communities.
These are families suffering intergenerational trauma because of the residential schools. When the survivors went home, there was nothing for them – no special clinics on how to be a parent or to handle post-traumatic stress. Nothing. Just incarceration and child welfare.
Do you know what kind of lasting damage it does to a child to be taken away – what it does to their psyche, their self-image, their sense of worthiness?
Here is the truth – $40,000 will not fix a broken childhood. But it could help in some small aspect. And it will acknowledge wrongdoing.
We know what it takes to grow healthy children – a high school; access to doctors and nurses; clean running water; a fridge full of food and a warm, loving home with parents or caregivers who tell a child, every day, that they matter.
Historically and cruelly shortchanging First Nations kids costs Canada more in the long run. This lesson Canada never learns.
All parties in this fight have agreed to negotiate compensation until the end of the year.
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society, said that she has been in these negotiations before and they never work. But she is willing to give it one more try.
Then she is done negotiating. She’ll continue to fight.
Because we don’t give up on our kids – even though Canada did long ago.
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