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Human rights complaint upheld for children on Canadian reserves

If you’re a First Nations child growing up on a reserve in Canada, the federal government has decided to spend less on you than on children growing up off reserves — 38 per cent less, to be exact.

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It turns out the feds invest less in child welfare services on reservations despite the fact that children’s needs there are often greater.

First Nations Child and Family Caring Society’s executive director Cindy Blackstock teamed up with the Assembly of First Nations to file a complaint against our government with the Canadian Human Rights Commission back in 2007. And in a report released Jan. 26, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal upheld the complaint, requesting “immediate relief for First Nations children” and an end to the “discriminatory” funding practices that left these children vulnerable. It found that shortchanging these children when it came to child welfare funding “resulted in denials of services and created various adverse impacts for many First Nations children and families living on reserves.”

“I can’t even believe we had to file a case against the Canadian government so First Nations children have the same chance to grow up in their families as other kids get,” Blackstock tells CBC News. “I’m still shocked by that, even nine years later.”

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And now the government will be forced to try to fix the mistakes of the past. CBC reports that Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said to a group of reporters, “My job is to go forward and fix these things.”

But can you really fix these things, or just hope for forgiveness? By depriving First Nations children of valued child welfare funding, one has to wonder how these disadvantages will play out later in life — or have already played out for some. Aboriginal people are already over-represented in our prisons and correctional facilities — 27 per cent of adults in provincial/territorial custody are Aboriginal, as are 20 per cent of inmates in federal custody, according to Statistics Canada. I find it hard to not make the correlation between the fact that the same people who wind up behind bars were once on reserves, deprived of opportunities early in life.

And the negative trends don’t just stop there. First Nations people have double the likelihood of dying early deaths that could have been avoided than other Canadians have, according to Statistics Canada. The study found they were more likely to die of preventable diseases like diabetes and injuries before they turned 75.

But Canadians have clearly had enough. It’s time to pressure our government to extend the same opportunities to children growing up on and off reserves.

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