Today is Bear Witness Day and advocates are asking Canadians to “bear witness” to ongoing discrimination against First Nations children across the country.
Five years ago, in a landmark ruling, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) found that the federal government had been discriminating against First Nations children in its delivery of child and family services.
Three months later, in April 2016, the CHRT issued the first of many non-compliance orders — ordering the federal government to implement policy changes outlined in Jordan’s Principle by May 10, 2016.
Jordan’s Principle is a child-first initiative that calls on the federal, provincial and territorial governments to ensure First Nations children have equitable access to the “services they need, when they need them,” according to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (the Caring Society).
The principle is in honour of Jordan River Anderson, a child from the Norway House Cree Nation who was born with complex medical needs. Anderson died at the age of five after spending two years in the hospital while the governments of Canada and Manitoba fought over who should foot the bill for his home care.
Cindy Blackstock is the executive director of the Caring Society, and a renowned advocate for First Nations children. The Caring Society co-led the nine-year battle against the federal government with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).
“Families really deserve culturally-based equity and services across the board in order to build healthy families and healthy children,” Blackstock said at an AFN virtual leadership gathering on First Nations child welfare earlier this year.
“I’m hoping all of you will join Huckleberry [the Bear] and I on May 10. You can bring out your teddy bear, say a prayer for Jordan, do a ceremony for all the children lost to this discrimination, and educate everybody about Jordan’s Principle and the Spirit Bear Plan. We’ve seen too many generations of children lost. We can do better.”
Spirit Bear has become a symbol for children like Anderson, and Blackstock’s asking people to help raise awareness by tweeting #BearWitnessDay on Twitter today.
In March, the federal government applied for judicial review of CHRT rulings “which relate to compensation and the definition of a First Nations child for the purposes of Jordan’s Principle eligibility.”
“Deciding who belongs to a First Nation community is complex,” wrote Marc Miller, minister of Indigenous Services Canada, and David Lametti, minister of justice and Canada’s attorney general, in a joint statement published March 13.
“We maintain that further engagement is required directly with First Nations on the important questions of community acceptance and second generation eligibility.”
In an interview with IndigiNews on April 23, Miller said the question of compensation is best resolved through direct conversations between First Nations and the federal government.
“This is a broken system that will cost billions to fix,” he says. “We are invested in it, but it has to be done in partnership with our nation-to-nation partners and that is something no court case can fix.”