How to put Indigenous children first

Posted on June 23, 2017 in Equality Delivery System – Opinion/Commentary – There are many actions the federal government needs to take to keep children safe and make Canada a country that truly reflects a new nation-to-nation relationship.
June 23, 2017.   By

What have we learned from the last 150 years of colonization? That the federal government remains incapable or unwilling to protect the interests of Indigenous children.

Despite the positive language of the prime minister that a new era has dawned, the systemic denial of the most basic services continues. We are losing children all the time to suicide, underfunded services or a broken foster care system. These are not isolated tragedies, but part of a rot that exists right in the core of how the federal government deals with Indigenous kids and communities.

In the past year, the Liberal government has ignored four rulings by the Human Rights Tribunal over the systemic discrimination against First Nation children. In the latest ruling, the government was found culpable in the deaths of 12-year-old Chantell Fox and Jolyn Winter of Wapekeka First Nation.

The Human Rights Tribunal ruled the government ignored a request for emergency funds in what was known to be a “life and death” situation. Since then, another 12-year-old has died as promised money for support programming for children at risk failed to materialize. Some are calling the government’s actions “criminal negligence.”

Unfortunately, given the long and ongoing pattern of Indigenous youth deaths, this manner of negligence is simply part of the operating code of the federal government. Successive governments have shown their unwillingness to change, despite a long litany of needless tragedies and losses.

It is time to protect children and finally bring in the accountability needed to ensure their rights are proactively supported by government — like any other kid in Canada. It is time to dismantle the colonial construction of both Indigenous Affair and Health Canada.

We must also tackle the obstructive role played by the Justice Department in fighting even the most basic implementation of Indigenous rights. Because what is the government worried about: that too many Indigenous kids will get the education, health care, and service they need?

Decolonization requires that we return the decision-making power for establishing healthy communities to the Indigenous people of Canada.

So how do we dismantle these structures?

Step one: Establish the office of a Children’s Ombudsperson that is independent of government with order making powers to initiate investigations and ensure government departments are in compliance with their obligations to ensure full access of services.

Step two: Initiate a full independent and public audit of Indigenous Affairs and Health Canada with the goal of returning the decision-making control for child development to the Indigenous people. The audit is necessary because until we know how these departments operate and where the obstructions exist, it will be impossible to create a better alternative. The reports of the auditor general and parliamentary budget office have revealed a black hole of accountability.

Step three: Under taking an independent analysis of the true cost of education, health services, child welfare, etc., so as these authorities are transferred to Indigenous control, the government will be providing adequate funding.

Step four: Changing the Justice of Canada Act so the Justice Department has to include Section 35 rights as part of its duty to protect the rights of Canadians. We need to transform the Justice Department from an institution of obstruction of Indigenous rights to a defender of their rights.

Needless to say, this will not be a simple transfer of authorities and funds. A coherent plan that reflects the complex diversities of Indigenous life in Canada will need to be negotiated. It will require appropriate checks and balances with a legislated framework to ensure that everything from the delivery of health services to education to community development is undertaken with the goal of empowering healthy communities.

But the time has come to get down to this work of making Canada a nation that truly reflects a new nation-to-nation relationship. Canada will never be the nation it was meant to be until we understand that the greatest wealth in our nation is not the gold, the oil or the diamonds — it is the potential of children.

On our 150th birthday let us put the interests of the children first.

Charlie Angus is the MP for Timmins-James Bay and candidate for leadership of the federal NDP.


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One Response to “How to put Indigenous children first”

  1. Crystal says:

    Thank you Mr. Angus for this article pertaining to inequity among Indigenous children in Canada. I believe, like you, that Indigenous children are greatly underserved by government institutions and would benefit from improved federal services and funding. I also fear that as the number of Indigenous children grow, the number of Indigenous children in Canada has increased by 39% since 2006, inequity among this specific group of children will worsen without action (Statistics Canada, 2018).
    Considering the solutions you have put forth to resolve inequity among Indigenous children, I was surprised to read that the federal government does not already have a children’s ombudsperson office. Researching this further, I discovered there are provincial ombudspersons throughout Canada, and federal ombudsperson offices for tax payers and victims of crime, but no office dedicated to children, or even a general federal office (Rowat, 2018). As you said, not having an ombudsperson office for children is troubling because there is essentially no one ensuring the government is accountable for failures and gaps in the provision of their services. Additional benefits of a children’s ombudsperson office could include faster resolution of minor grievances, improved administrative action, and repaired trust between the government and public (Rowat, 2018). I hope our continued discussion and calls for action on this topic can bring about more action from all levels of government in the future. Thanks again for your post. Sincerely, Crystal McLeod (Registered Nurse)


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