After a decade of joint work between First Nations and INAC to document the inequalities in child welfare services and to develop solutions to redress them, the federal government chose not to fix the problem. The complaint was filed as a last resort to bring the government to account and to make sure that First Nations children and families have access to equitable services compared to the rest of children living in Canada.
In 2007, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint pursuant to the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging that the federal government, as represented by the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC), discriminates against 163,000 First Nations children by providing flawed and inequitable child welfare services and failing to properly implement Jordan’s Principle.
What do you think the decision will mean for First Nations children?
The CHRT decision is legally binding on the government so it should result in equity in child welfare services that takes full account of the historical disadvantage and unique cultures of First Nations children and families. It is also a watershed decision that should inform redress of inequalities across all areas of children’s experience including education, health care, early childhood education and basics like water and housing. While the government has made some statements that are encouraging, we must measure change at the level of children, and thus far, nothing has substantially changed for First Nations children and families on the ground.
I think it is vitally important that everyone understands that in this case. And it’s true in education as well; the federal government has known that their funding and policy regimes were inequitable and contributed to profound disadvantage for First Nations children for decades. Repeated solutions to address the inequalities were developed, often in partnership with the federal government, but never implemented. This is a key area for study. When I survey the literature on the disadvantage of First Nations children much of it focuses on the children, but I think there needs to be significant study and debate on why Canada has repeatedly failed to do better for First Nations children.
Can you speak specifically about the impact this decision will have on education?
The facts in the child welfare case closely mirror those in First Nations education, so it sets a strong precedent, and it is critical that people educate themselves on the inequalities in First Nations education and school funding and leverage the decision as a tool for redress. This means awakening our conscience to see the egregious harms of systemic discrimination and aligning the weight of our efforts with the severity of the problem.