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Vicky Mochama: Summit must make strides for Indigenous children's welfare

Advocates want to see some good come from the meeting — but they’re not hopeful.

Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, will join other child welfare advocates in Ottawa on Thursday and Friday to meet with government officials about the crisis.

Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press

Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, will join other child welfare advocates in Ottawa on Thursday and Friday to meet with government officials about the crisis.

When it comes to Indigenous children’s well being, we must surely be past the moment of more promises that will remain unkept.

For the next two days in Ottawa, government officials will meet with child welfare organizations and advocates to discuss the emergency in Indigenous child welfare.

Over the last two decades in New Brunswick, at least 53 children known to the child welfare system died from unnatural causes as reported by CBC News. A 2014 series by the Edmonton Journal found that 145 children had died in care over the previous 15 years.

In 2016, Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency after a spate of suicides. In Manitoba, almost 90 per cent of the 11,000 children in care are Indigenous, Premier Brian Pallister told reporters in October.

It is too easy to say these children and their families have fallen through the cracks. If anything, the numbers tell us that the child welfare system isn’t so much riddled with cracks as it is a canyon.  

Advocates I spoke with want to see some good come from the meeting — but they’re not hopeful.

“The typical pattern is: they’ll say they’re reviewing the recommendations and not implement them. There will be another crisis in child welfare," Cindy Blackstock, the executive director for First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, told me.

Though wary that any change will be accomplished over the next two days, she would like to see the provinces and territories adopt a definition and an approach to Jordan’s Principle, which aims to eliminate jurisdictional delays for kids in need of health care.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that the federal government discriminates against First Nations children on reserves. As she noted by phone, this Friday marks the second anniversary of the initial ruling. (Subsequent rulings have affirmed that finding. The goverment has dropped its request for a judicial review.)

Moreover, Blackstock says, “I’d like to see an actual discussion about the definitions of neglect.”

Her lack of faith in this summit’s ability to achieve substantive change is echoed by Dylan Cohen, a youth organizer for First Call, a B.C. child youth and advocacy coalition.

“I’d be really surprised if action comes out of this meeting,” he says. “These conversations are not new. We’ve looked for answers many times and now it’s a matter of following through on the promises.”

Naturally, the federal government is more hopeful. “The federal government is looking to come forward with concrete actions and hoping that our partners will do the same,” said Andrew MacKendrick, a spokesperson for the Indigenous services department.

This serious issue requires action from the provincial, territorial and federal governments. Only that will assure skeptics that this isn't just another big government meeting with little to show for it.

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