News / Calgary

Indigenous youth share stories of displacement in child welfare system

Documentary film sheds light on the similarities between the residential school system and child welfare placements

Tia Ledesma speaks at a panel discussion after the Calgary screening of (Dis)placed. Ledesma appeared in the film, which highlights the voices of indigenous youth who have been in the child welfare system, and the impacts those experiences had on them.

Elizabeth Cameron/For Metro

Tia Ledesma speaks at a panel discussion after the Calgary screening of (Dis)placed. Ledesma appeared in the film, which highlights the voices of indigenous youth who have been in the child welfare system, and the impacts those experiences had on them.

A new documentary which screened this weekend in Calgary examines the practice of removing indigenous children from their families.

(Dis)placed is not about the residential school system – it’s about the experiences of indigenous youth placed in the child welfare system.

Indigenous children are often removed from their family’s care because of poverty, inadequate housing, or care-giver substance abuse related to residential schools. 

The documentary gives several indigenous youth a platform to speak about their experiences in the child welfare system, and how those experiences continue to impact their lives.

Tyler Blackface is one of the youth featured in (Dis)placed, directed by Melisa Brittain.

Blackface was placed in foster care when he was three, due to his birth parent’s struggles with alcohol.

Now 24, Blackface has a young daughter who is the centre of his life.

“Sobriety plays a big part in my life because of my daughter. I don’t want her to go through the same thing (that I did) in care,” Blackface said.

There are three times as many First Nations children in child welfare care in Canada today, compared to the height of residential school enrolment, according to a report by the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect.

“The way the government interacts with the child welfare system is very similar to the residential school period,” said Dr. Cindy Blackstock, an advocate for First Nations children with an extensive background in social work, and founder of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada.

Blackstock spoke about the overrepresentation of First Nations children in Canada’s child welfare systems at a panel discussion after the screening.

Blackstock remembers hearing similar stories to those shared in (Dis)placed while she was working as a social worker in the 1980’s.

“It’s the same tragedy unfolding, and it’s totally unnecessary,” Blackstock said.

She said she has a lot of hope for the future, if stories continue to be shared and people become more aware of these issues.

“My greatest hope lies with mainstream Canadians, and the First Nations youth themselves,” she said.

“I think the average person on the street is starting to open their eyes to this, and realize that First Nations children are getting less on reserves than every other child in the country when it comes to education, healthcare, water, and housing.”

Blackstock said films like (Dis)placed help people connect with the problem on a personal level.

“It humanizes the struggle (of these young people), and makes it harder to turn away from.”

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