As talks continue to settle compensation claims, the Canadian government has set aside $40 billion for First Nations child welfare in its latest economic update.
While the final amount is contingent on reaching an agreement with Indigenous groups, it is expected that the money would be roughly split between compensation for impacted children and families and long-term changes to the child welfare system.
“The more important piece is that the government ends its ongoing discrimination in First Nations child and family services and that it reforms the department so that it never does this to another generation of kids,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS).
The FNCFCS, along with the Assembly of First Nations, Chiefs of Ontario and Nishnawbe Aski Nation, is involved in a class-action lawsuit and longstanding human rights complaint with the Canadian government over the underfunding of First Nations child welfare. The inadequate funding was a key factor behind the separation of families.
In 2019, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that this discrimination was “wilful and reckless” and ordered Canada to pay the statutory maximum of $40,000 to each child and primary guardian who attended the on-reserve child welfare system.
The federal government was also ordered to expand its criteria so more Indigenous children could access services using Jordan’s Principle, which ensures jurisdictional disputes don’t prevent necessary support.
After Ottawa announced it wanted to reach an out-of-court settlement on the matter while addressing outstanding issues within the child welfare system, Murray Sinclair, former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was brought on to oversee negotiations.
“Frankly, if we didn’t have Murray Sinclair, talks probably would have broken down by now,” said Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller. “We’ve made progress that would have taken us years to be done in an adversarial process.”
Details regarding who will qualify and how far back victims will be compensated remain to be finalized. Blackstock said that fixing these inequalities decades ago would have only cost hundreds of millions and that this should be a “landmark lesson” that delaying action and justice only increases the ultimate cost.
“The magnitude of the proposed compensation package is a testament to how many of our children were ripped from their families and communities,” stated AFN Chief RoseAnne Archibald. “Money does not mean justice. However, it signals that we are on the healing path forward as we finalize long term reform to ensure we meet our vision of children surrounded by the love and care of their families, living in safe and vibrant communities.”
by Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter