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Historical announcement... but does "every child" truly matter now?



Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


Last week, on January 4th, the Federal Government alongside the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, the Assembly of First Nations, the Chiefs of Ontario, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, and counsels for two class-action cases – Xavier Moushoom and Zach Trout, announced a historical agreement regarding the child welfare system in Canada.[1]

An overdue announcement, but a welcomed one, nonetheless.


As ReconciliACTION discussed in our child welfare segment the child welfare system has systematically oppressed and harmed Indigenous people for decades. Even though only one in ten children in Alberta is Indigenous, they make up 69% of those in the child welfare system and once Indigenous children come into care, they are more likely to find themselves in contact with the system again, stay in care longer, and are less likely to be returned to their families than their non-Aboriginal peers. [2]


The announcement on January 4th however comes not out of goodwill and recognition of wrongs but as a result of a decades-long court battle. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in January 2016 found that Canada was racially discriminating against Indigenous children and their family’s contrary to section 5 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, a contributor to the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care.[3] In addition, the tribunal also found that the government was applying Jordan’s Principle “too narrowly and in a manner that caused First Nations children to be denied equitable public services.”[4] These findings shocking to very few with knowledge of the child welfare system, but egregious all the same.


The Canadian government as expected did not choose to make their amends for these discriminatory acts at this time. Rather, they chose not to “comply with the legally binding decision and instead were issued more than a dozen non-compliance orders.”[5] It wasn’t until the Federal Court dismissed Canada’s judicial review with a damning statement that Canada must “act now to remedy this unprecedented discrimination in order to fix its damaged relationships with Indigenous people in Canada” that a proper response to the situation occurred.


And so, five years after the initial decision by the Canadian Humans Rights Tribunal, the tireless work of negotiation began.


The announcement was borne out of the dedication of many to ensuring a better future for Indigenous children and a persistence by Indigenous groups to ensure that action was taken.

The $40-billion agreement in principle offers compensation to First Nations children harmed by discrimination in the child welfare system and a commitment to creating systemic change and reform to prevent future harm. The Assembly of First Nations estimates that more than 200,000 children and youth could be eligible.[6]

It is the largest financial settlement of its kind in Canadian history… or it will be once approved. At this point, the agreement is simply an agreement to work together to agree. As Dr. Cindy Blackstock stated, "no child's life is better today than it was yesterday because of these words on paper. We have to see the government actually deliver this stuff."[7]


With a track record ReconciliACTION YEG has been following for years, many are skeptical, and as writers we won’t be holding our breathe just yet. But with the deadline of March to put words to paper, we will be watching closely to see if this time both Truth and Reconciliation will guide our Nation’s decisions and create a path forward for us all.

No amount of money can erase the pain and harm perpetrated upon Indigenous people by the child welfare system, but at the very least, we can ensure that the opportunity to truly make sure that “every child matters” is seized now.


Until next time,


ReconciliACTION YEG


[1] "New Child Welfare Agreements Explained" (6 Jan 2022), online: TYEE <https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2022/01/06/New-Child-Welfare-Agreements-Explained>.

[2] “Where the Monster Lives” (7 Oct 2022), online: ReconciliACTION YEG <https://reconciliactionyeg.wixsite.com/website/post/where-the-monster-now-lives>.

[3] “Non-Compliance Orders” (2022), online: First Nations Child & Family Caring Society <https://fncaringsociety.com/fr/non-compliance-orders>.

[4] Supra note 1.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “First Nations Child Welfare Agreements in Principle” ( 4 Jan 2022), online: CBC <https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/first-nations-child-welfare-agreements-in-principle-1.6302636>.

[7] Ibid.


See also:

(https://reconciliactionyeg.wixsite.com/website/post/indigenous-child-welfare-a-jurisdictional-quagmire

https://reconciliactionyeg.wixsite.com/website/post/can-a-broken-system-be-fixed.

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