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Ottawa unveils $40B deal on Indigenous child welfare compensation

Click to play video: 'Federal government reaches agreement in principle to compensate Indigenous children' Federal government reaches agreement in principle to compensate Indigenous children
WATCH: Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu announced on Tuesday that the federal government has reached an agreement-in-principle with Indigenous people and First Nations communities that amounts to a total of $40 billion, with nearly half of the money going to those impacted by the discriminatory underfunding of the First Nations child and family services program that led to children being taken from their families or caregivers. Another $20 billion will be spent over the next five years to reform the First Nations Child and Family Services program and begin the work to reform Jordan's principle and other departmental initiatives – Jan 4, 2022

Canada has reached a $40-billion agreement in principle to compensate First Nations children harmed by an underfunded child welfare system.

The deal is slated to end a human rights challenge that was launched 14 years ago.

“This is the largest settlement in Canadian history, but no amount of money can reverse the harms experienced by First Nations children,” said Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller.

“However, historic injustices require historic reparations.”

Read more: Ottawa pausing court appeal filed on Indigenous compensation, will work to strike deal

The government is setting aside $20 billion for compensating Indigenous children and their family members, and another $20 billion is earmarked for funding services for Indigenous kids.

The case has been a major sore point in reconciliation efforts with Indigenous people in Canada, as both the former and current federal governments spent millions fighting it in court.

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The longstanding legal battle centres around two different rulings.

Click to play video: 'Ottawa commits $40 billion for Indigenous child welfare compensation' Ottawa commits $40 billion for Indigenous child welfare compensation
Ottawa commits $40 billion for Indigenous child welfare compensation – Dec 13, 2021

The first is a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling from September 2019, which found the federal government “willfully and recklessly” discriminated against Indigenous children living on reserve through the underfunding of services.

As a form of redress for this discrimination, the tribunal ordered Ottawa to pay $40,000 each to roughly 50,000 First Nations children and their relatives.

The second ruling is from November 2020. It expanded the scope of Jordan’s Principle — a rule that pledges to provide First Nations children with the services they need when they need them, rather than compartmentalizing the services — taking the time to sort out which level of government is responsible for the cost.

The Federal Court shot down the government’s most recent bid to appeal these decisions on Sept. 29 – and ultimately, the government opted to pause its appeal of the rulings.

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“Canada’s decisions and actions harmed First Nations children, families and communities,” said Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu.

“I believe that healing is possible if we look face-on at the harms caused, if we compensate, and most importantly, if we end the discrimination once and for all.”

Read more: Ottawa should not appeal tribunal order to pay Indigenous kids, advocates say

The battle first began in 2007 when the First Nations Children and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed the initial human rights complaint.

But on Tuesday, the AFN applauded the deal.

“Today is the culmination of … more than 30 years of hard work and advocacy, grounded in First Nations rights, fairness, and equity for our children and their families,” said AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse, who had sat at the negotiation table where the agreement was hammered out.

“We’ve delivered, and I’m so very proud of our efforts and what this will mean for our people.”

Click to play video: 'Federal Court upholds landmark compensation order for Indigenous children' Federal Court upholds landmark compensation order for Indigenous children
Federal Court upholds landmark compensation order for Indigenous children – Sep 29, 2021

The AFN said in a press release that it plans to work over the “next few months” to finalize a “full compensation package” that will have details on who is eligible for compensation, and how they can apply for it.

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Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the Caring Society, was more cautious in her optimism.

“There is an unquestionable need for actionable change. This Agreement-in-Principle, while an important first step, is a non-binding agreement,” she wrote in a statement issued Tuesday.

“It is only when that binding agreement has been written and signed by the Government of Canada and acted upon with great haste that First Nations children, youth and families will have a measure of assurance that actionable change is coming.”

Hajdu promised that the government is planning to tackle that issue next.

“Now that Canada and the parties have signed these agreements in principle, we’ll focus on finalizing the settlement agreements,” Hajdu said.

“We look forward to immediately beginning this work with all of the parties.”

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