SASKATOON – A national tribunal ruling against the federal government Tuesday reinforces calls to improve child welfare on reserves, according to a Saskatoon-based First Nations leader. In 2007, a complaint was made to the Canada Human Rights Tribunal, stating Ottawa underfunded child welfare services on reserves, compared to off-reserve cases, which are handled by provincial governments.
The group ruled Tuesday that Canada discriminated against on-reserve children, and in some cases produced conditions that created incentives to remove them from their homes.
“It does validate and vindicate a lot of the things that we’ve been saying on behalf of our children,” said Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas.
“We wasted a decade, but also we probably wasted a decade of a child’s life,” he added, in response to the time it took for a ruling to be made.
The complaint was put forward by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada as well as the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).
“Today, First Nations’ children win,” said AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde, to reporters in Ottawa.
“Canada has an obligation to First Nations people to rectify the wrong and remedy the situation.”
The tribunal report stated that “First Nations are adversely impacted and, in some cases, denied adequate child welfare services,” on reserves funded by the federal government. It adds that if an agency didn’t have money in its budget, “often times the only way to provide the necessary child and family services is to bring the child into care.”
“This perpetuation of child removal, it’s never going to end if Canadians don’t recognize that it’s really about investing in the human resources within communities,” said Allyson Stevenson, a University of Saskatchewan indigenous studies lecturer.
“Clearly children on-reserve receiving less money than children off reserve, that’s discrimination,” she added.
The remoteness of many Saskatchewan reserves can leave First Nations out of key political discussions, according to Stevenson. She said she believes its one unique challenge the province has to overcome when discussing child welfare procedures.
“We haven’t seen enough indigenous voices in shaping public policy, not just in child welfare but in a number of different areas,” she said.