• Taylor Piotrowski

Continuous Calls to Action: Federal Discrimination Against First Nations Youth


“Reconciliation starts by not having to say sorry twice,” Chelsea Jane Edwards told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Chelsea is a Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN)[1] Youth Delegate who took part in the NAN Youth meeting on November 3rd, speaking with MP’s, Senators, and the Prime Minister, to address the continued systemic problems First Nations youth face throughout Canada.[2]

In a recent interview with Power and Politics,[3] Chelsea and fellow NAN Youth Delegate Raven discussed the topics addressed in their meeting with Trudeau. Chelsea stated that that the “meeting pressed the need for change today.” The Prime Minister admitted that there are persisting issues, almost two years after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that federal underfunding of First Nations child welfare and the failure to give them equal access to federal services was in direct violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act.[4] Continuous struggles within Indigenous communities and the lack of government intervention are issues that Chelsea stresses must be dealt with by Chiefs and the federal government working together with First Nations youth in their communities to implement calls to action.[5]

Raven goes on to explain that the government needs to address and prioritize mental health, health care, and education. “Mental health is of primary concern,” Chelsea said on behalf of First Nations youth, who are in dire need for services to address the intergenerational effects of residential schools and other colonial policies[6] which were made in Canada’s recent past and are currently unaccounted for in the federal budget. In her interview, Chelsea stated that First Nations children deal with poverty, discrimination, displacement from families, as well as the loss of language and tradition and the lack of community when off of their reserves. These, in addition to the lack of mental health services, are major reasons why the First Nations youth suicide rates are the highest in the world and about 11 times the national average.[7] The Mental Health Strategy for Canada plans to address this by reducing disparities in risk, providing access to services, and strengthening the response to the needs of diverse communities and Northerners.[8]However, we have yet to see the government follow through in the implementation of these plans.

First Nations children throughout Canada are uniquely affected by the federal underfunding of services on reserves, where colonialism and the legacy of residential schools are as raw as 15 years ago. According to 2011 reports from Statistics Canada, Aboriginal children 14 and under represent 7% of all children in Canada[9], wherein 14,200 of them account for almost half of the children in the Canadian foster care system.[10] This is an epidemic echoing, or rather surpassing, of the horrors of our past as “there are more First Nations children in care today than in the height of the residential schools” said Shawn Atleo, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations.[11] Canada removes indigenous children from their families at one of the highest rates in the developing world, according to Jane Philpott, the Canadian minister responsible for Indigenous services in a recent interview. This is an issue of particular concern in Manitoba, where 10,000 of the 11,000 children placed in care are indigenous.[12]

The overrepresentation of Indigenous children in welfare and the federal underfunding of services in Indigenous communities are largely a result of poor government policies wherein “discrimination against Indigenous kids” who are “apprehended from their homes for reasons like poverty, or lack of adequate housing or food” keeps children away from their families, communities and culture, according to Philpott. Philpott ended her interview stating that “Ottawa is not doing everything they can to make sure that this isn’t another generation of First Nations kids that don’t have to recover from their childhood.”[13]

In light of the above statements, on November 2nd Philpott issued an emergency meeting with the people responsible for administering Canadian child welfare programs and Indigenous leaders to address the disproportionate amount of Indigenous children in welfare . Coincidently, or not, this statement was also announced as First Nations activists stood on Parliament Hill during the National Day of Action for First Nations Child Welfare, calling for the government's immediate action to respect the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) ruling on First Nations Welfare and the Jordan’s Principle- a federal policy created to deal with jurisdictional disputes involving the care of Aboriginal children.[14]

Chelsea commented on Philpott’s call for an emergency meeting as another “hopeful” plot to create change in a scenario where little has actually been done, especially in regards to education and mental health issues.[15]

With all this being said, it is hard for anyone to predict what the future will look like, but what I do know is that the First Nations youth and their communities will continue to voice their calls for action. In order to see concrete evidence of change we must address the issues of clear-cut discrimination directly within the communities themselves, so that Indigenous children are no longer ripped from their homes, and so that they can have equal access to the services that non-indigenous Canadians receive.

[1] "Power and Politics November 03, 2017," CBCnews, December 22, 2016, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1088241731613.

[2]"Office Representative of Children and Youth," Delegated Aboriginal Agencies: How resourcing affects service delivery | Office Representative of Children and Youth, March 30, 2017, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.rcybc.ca/daareport.

[3] "Power and Politics November 03, 2017," CBCnews, December 22, 2016, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1088241731613.

[4] Legislative Services Branch, "Consolidated federal laws of canada, Canadian Human Rights Act," Legislative Services Branch, November 16, 2017, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/H-6/.

[5] "Open letter to Justin Trudeau: Give First Nations children an equal chance," The Globe and Mail, September 23, 2017, , accessed November 16, 2017, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/justin-trudeau-open-letter-to-pm-give-first-nations-children-an-equal-chance/article36372720/.

[6] "Power and Politics November 03, 2017," CBCnews, December 22, 2016, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1088241731613.

[7]"Mental Illness and Addictions: Facts and Statistics," For Reporters, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/about_camh/newsroom/for_reporters/Pages/addictionmentalhealthstatistics.aspx.

[8] "Summary," Summary | Mental Health Strategy, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://strategy.mentalhealthcommission.ca/strategy/summary/.

[9] "Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: First Nations People, Métis and Inuit," Census Program, September 15, 2016, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-011-x/99-011-x2011001-eng.cfm.

[10] Ibid

[11] Adrian Humphreys, "‘A lost tribe’: Child welfare system accused of repeating residential school history," National Post, January 24, 2015, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://nationalpost.com/news/canada/a-lost-tribe-child-welfare-system-accused-of-repeating-residential-school-history-sapping-aboriginal-kids-from-their-homes.

[12] Ashifa Kassam, "Ratio of indigenous children in Canada welfare system is 'humanitarian crisis'," The Guardian, November 04, 2017, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/04/indigenous-children-canada-welfare-system-humanitarian-crisis.

[13] Ashifa Kassam, "Ratio of indigenous children in Canada welfare system is 'humanitarian crisis'," The Guardian, November 04, 2017, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/04/indigenous-children-canada-welfare-system-humanitarian-crisis.

[14] "News & Media," Assembly of First Nations, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.afn.ca/news-media/.

[15] "Power and Politics November 03, 2017," CBCnews, December 22, 2016, , accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1088241731613.


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