The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled the federal government discriminated against children on reserves in its funding of child welfare services.
The quasi-judicial body published its findings this morning related to a 2007 complaint from the Assembly of First Nations and The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
The groups had argued the federal government failed to provide First Nations children the same level of services that exist elsewhere, contrary to the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The society’s executive director Cindy Blackstock says it is extraordinary the case had to be filed in the first place.
Child welfare was among the central issues flagged in the report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which spent six years delving into the painful residential school system that operated from the 1870s to 1996.
The report called on all levels of government to reduce the number of aboriginal children taken into care by providing adequate resources for communities and child-welfare organizations.
Reaction to the historic ruling was swift.
The federal government was one of the first to applaud the decision.
“We thank the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for rendering such an important decision,” said Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennet in a release. “The Tribunal made it clear that the system in place today is failing.”
FSIN Vice-Chief Kimberley Jonathan was ecstatic with the ruling and the government’s initial response to the decision.
“This decision is the most significant decision from the Human Rights Tribunal for First Nations people in Canada,” said Jonathan. “Today marks the beginning of the end for systemic discrimination of First Nations people in Canada.”
Other Aboriginal leaders also applauded the decision.
“Today the kids win. Today the children are put first,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde in a release. “We cannot wait any longer to close the gap, and I look forward to seeing how the next federal budget will support safety, fairness and equity for First Nations children and families.”
“I am extremely happy with the historic ruling,” echoed Congress of Aboriginal Peoples National Chief Dwight Dorey. “This decision directly impacts the health and well-being of our First Nations children and paves the way for future generations.”
Meanwhile, the leadership of the Prince Albert Grand Council says the ruling will represent a profound turning point for the children and families in northern Saskatchewan.
The PAGC says the judgment is expected to have a major impact in Saskatchewan, where an over representation of First Nations children in foster care and out-of-home care is much higher than the national average.
In Saskatchewan alone, 25 per cent of the child population is Aboriginal, and about 65 per cent of children in care are Aboriginal.
The numbers are even more dramatic in the North where 85 per cent of the children in care are First Nations.
With more First Nations children in care today than during the residential school era, Prince Albert Grand Council Grand Chief Ron Michel says he is hopeful that the ruling will bring “much needed change”.
Yorkton Tribal Council Child and Family Services and Touchwood Child and Family Services say they, the province and Ottawa need to come up with some interim measures to cease discriminating practices in the field.
The agencies say there is a current need for a moratorium on Family Court applications and adoptions of First Nations children — as well as the need for a First Nations Advocate who specialises in the on-reserve child population.
YTCCFS and TCFS represent and deliver on-reserve child protection services to 23 First Nations in Treaty 4 Territory.
Respectively, the two agencies offer services to approximately 5,000 First Nations children and youth.
(with files from The Canadian Press)