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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Tomorrow, tomorrow

BY Will Nicholls Jul 20, 2022

Wow, a landmark decision has seen Canada sign a $20 billion compensation agreement on First Nations child welfare. Now why would they do that? In the past, their response has always seen large amounts of dollars going to lawyers fighting Indigenous claims rather than settling them.

One suspects they were running out of courts to appeal decisions made by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the Federal Court. Of course, the spectre of the unmarked graves of Indigenous children on the grounds of former residential schools might have been a factor. Especially when you consider that part of the compensation package the feds signed includes First Nations children who were removed from their homes. 

It also includes Jordan’s Principle, which is meant to ensure that Indigenous children are not denied essential social and medical services when provincial and federal governments argue over who should pay for those services. 

Factors such as these and a battle for those rights for children have spanned three decades. The Human Rights Tribunal said that Canada should pay each First Nations child unnecessarily placed in foster care $40,000 each. Canada appealed the decision, simply arguing that the Tribunal has no right to order specific compensation amounts.

Of course, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said the $20 billion is expected to cover those minimum payments and those who might be entitled to more. An appeal is still possible but may be dropped if the deal is approved. The Federal Court is expected to review it in September.

Money could begin flowing into First Nations next year. Little Orphan Annie’s song line – “Tomorrow! Tomorrow!” – is a hopeful one, but sad in its own way.

A 2016 census showed that fewer than 8% of children under 15 are Indigenous but they make up more than 50% in foster care. Another $20 billion is earmarked for a long-term reform of on-reserve child welfare systems but no settlement has yet been reached.

Given the food insecurities experienced by many First Nations because of high costs, low-paying jobs and low employment, it is easy to blame First Nations families for inadequate care. Forgotten are the elements that brought many First Nations communities to that place in Canada – like the policy to assimilate the Indian through residential schools. 

Another method was the Buffalo Jump program, which was designed to make reserve life so bad that Indians would have to leave their homes and move to cities. This was done through locating reserves on inferior lands that would flood or be difficult to grow crops on. Those on reserve at that time needed permission from the Indian Agent to sell their goods and products. 

These factors are the roots of the problems faced by Indigenous Peoples today. It’s nice to know some more things will possibly change for the better… tomorrow.

A shout-out goes to North Bay’s Rotary Club. They spent July 5 packaging almost 15,000 meals that will be sent to First Nation communities in the North. Club President Grace Doiron said it was important given the cost and inability to get nutritious food to the North. 

The meals include a protein, veggies, rice and more than 20 vitamins and minerals. “The children love it,” Dorion said. “It has flavour and it’s good for them. So, it means them having a meal.”

Now these are people who believe doing something today is better than tomorrow, tomorrow.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.