For the vast portion of Canadian history, indigenous communities have been stripped of their rights. Underfunding students, bickering over health costs, and allowing children to slip into child welfare cracks is how those rights continue to be abridged.
According to a report last week in the Globe and Mail, over the next year, the federal government plans to spend nearly half a billion dollars on Canada 150. While some of that money will go towards promoting truth and reconciliation, spending millions on a party while indigenous children, families and communities fight for equitable services is a hypocrisy.
Last week, the Toronto Star reported that the Assembly of First Nations and First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada filed a motion to the human rights tribunal asking for the federal government to be found guilty. One year ago, the tribunal ordered the government to comply with Jordan’s Principle, a law enacted in 2007. The motion alleges that they have failed to heed the tribunal’s orders.
Jordan’s Principle requires the government to take a child-first approach to providing services to all First Nations children. The government that is first contacted — be it federal or provincial — takes on the cost of a child’s services and seeks to solve jurisdictional issues only after those services have first been paid for.
The law is meant to ensure that all indigenous children receive equal access to government services with the same level of service that non-indigenous children do.
In education, for example, there are significant gaps between what indigenous students on-reserve receive versus provincially funded students. (Education is a provincial responsibility, except in the case of First Nations children living on-reserve.)
A report last month from the parliamentary budget office found shortfalls in what Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) provided for students on-reserve and what their provincial counterpart receive. In their estimation, the funding shortfall between what INAC paid for and what the various provinces would be between $336 million and $665 million in 2016-2017.
The human rights tribunal case — and many others — is evidence of an ongoing process of depriving indigenous children of equitable and humane services.
Organizations like First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada are continually forced to sue the government to provide for services that are standard and sacrosanct for non-indigenous children.
The most recent federal budget provides $3.7 billion in funding for indigenous students over the next five years. But too much of that money won’t be seen for a few years yet. Generations of indigenous children will be lost in the meantime.