Posts tagged ‘Child Poverty’

John Beaucage to advise on needs of aboriginal youth

By Tanya Talaga
Queen’s Park Bureau, Toronto Star

For the first time, Ontario has appointed a special advisor to the government on the plight of aboriginal youth.

John Beaucage, former grand council chief of the Anishinabek Nation, will be the aboriginal advisor on child welfare, reporting to Children and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten.

“This is a very important step and reflective to the significance we place on finding solutions to the very challenging issues that do exist, both in the north but also in our urban centres,” Broten told the Star.

Staggering youth suicide rates in remote northern communities and funding problems among First Nations children’s aid societies will be a focus for Beaucage. His one-year appointment coincides with an ongoing review of the Child and Family Services Act. The review hones in on the situation of aboriginal kids.

It would be a mistake to believe all the problems among First Nations children could be solved in a year, said Beaucage. Children in the north often grow up in Third World conditions, coping with poverty, substance abuse, inferior education and despair. Those problems often follow aboriginals off the reserve and into the cities.

“The problems have been there for a long time,” he said in an interview from Ottawa. “But what I am hoping is there will be a more inclusive process with First Nations leadership and leadership with urban aboriginal people.”

Nearly 21 per cent of Ontario’s 9,000 Crown wards are aboriginal kids or children with First Nations heritage. There are six aboriginal children’s aid societies and many struggle to manage historic funding inequities while taking care of vulnerable kids.

On Wednesday, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies called improved services for aboriginal children one of three priority areas the province needs to tackle now.

A Star investigation last year focused on the troubles of Payukotayno James and Hudson Bay Family Services which nearly shut its doors because it could no longer afford to pay its bills. The agency was also confronting a teen suicide crisis – 13 youth in the remote communities dotting the James Bay coastline committed suicide in 2009, all by hanging.

Suicides among First Nations youth is a societal problem with no easy answers. “It is always something there that is lurking”, said Beaucage.

“I have experienced it, I’ve seen it and I would be remiss if I wasn’t able to make some kind of comment on it, speak to elders and to look at the traditional aspects of prevention of these horrible tragedies,” he said.

Broten did step in to help with Payukotayno’s $2.3 million debt. Costs are higher in remote agencies that often service fly-in only communities and have to charter planes in a moments notice to rescue a child in danger.

After the Star series appeared, Broten also provided funding for four suicide prevention workers.

But agencies serving First Nations communities are historically underfunded. An independent review prepared for the government in 2006 showed Payukotayno and Tikinagan Children and Family Services required a baseline funding increase of $24.6 million to give northern kids the same level of care Crown wards in the south receive.
A three-person committee is also studying the funding woes of all of Ontario’s 53 children’s aid societies, 49 of which have recently faced shortfalls.

Terry Waboose, deputy grand chief, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, called Beaucage’s appointment a positive step. “It is vitally important for us, child welfare is a big issue,” he said. “I see this as a positive step.”

Violence and Trauma in First Nations

I’ve been watching with great interest the story unfolding in Ottawa, where Constable Eric Czapnik, a father of four, was the first Ottawa Police officer to have been killed in the line of duty since 1983. His alleged assailant, Kevin Gregson is a First Nations man and a suspended RCMP officer. He has been charged with first-degree murder.

On the surface, this seems to be violent, senseless killing – apparently with a robbery motive. But there are still many questions to be answered like: who would try to rob a cop? Or why would you commit robbery in front of a cop in a police cruiser? None of this makes sense.

The likely defence here is insanity given that Gregson blamed a past criminal incident on pre-operative brain cysts. He allegedly pulled a knife and threatened a Mormon church official in Regina in 2006 and was given a conditional discharge. He hasn’t been on the job with the RCMP since.

Any crime that takes the life of another needs to be punished severely. Especially if such an action take the life of a police officer. If Gregson is guilty, so be it – native or non-native.

But what intrigues me is that Gregson is Anishinaabe. According to media reports, he describes himself as an “urban native”, meaning he is a First Nations person that lives and grow up in the city.

There is no question that being a First Nations person, the odds have been stacked against him all his life.

Trauma is a significant factor in the evolution of violence. No matter where we grew up, the reserve or the city, First Nations people are far more likely to have experienced some form of childhood trauma. Be it emotional, physical or sexual abuse, family violence, racism or the effects of poverty.

Poverty is endemic in First Nations. In Canada, one in four aboriginal children live in poverty. So many of our little ones are living in third-world conditions without adequate housing or healthy food. Children are going to school hungry. Poverty isn’t just isolated to reserves, either. The statistics are similar for aboriginal people living in urban centres.

Just imagine if one in four non-native children in Ottawa or Toronto were found to be living in poverty. I’m sure a state of emergency would be called and resources would be immediately mobilized to alleviate such a crisis.

The multi-generational effects of residential schools must not be underestimated. There are thousands of brown people with status cards, wondering why they are different. Wondering why they are confused, depressed and sick. People with no culture, no values or no hope. That was all beaten out of our parents and grandparents, yardstick by yardstick.

Many residential school survivors and their families have no identity beyond their church and what they learned in school. With no identity and without acceptance, they are banished to the margins of society. Although this generation might be more accepting – with access to more social programs and numerous political, legal and rights-based victories – the damage from the past generations has been done. Parents don’t know how to be parents. Families don’t know how to Love.

First Nations people are introduced to violence at an early age – in the home. Violence against aboriginal women continues to be a significant social issue that must be dealt with in a serious manner. First Nations youth living in cities are even more susceptible, as aboriginal street gangs are more prevalent and much more violent.

Sadly, violence is a way of life for many First Nations people. Even my relatively quiet, urbanized native community has had its share of violent confrontations and tragic endings. It has affected me and many other people on my reserve.

Addictions is another incredible factor. Alcoholism began as an early epidemic in our communities. No one knew how to handle the fire-water. It became a means to an end –to wash away the troubles of Indian life. Today, in much the same way, the youth in First Nations are dealing with their lack of identity, poverty and troubles through prescription drug abuse.

For far too many youth, suicide is the ultimate way out. We’re seeing that more in more in remote, northern communities. This is truly the saddest commentary. I can’t imagine how bad life must be for a twelve year-old Cree boy to hang himself at the recreation centre swing-set. To not have the Love he needs… to not have hope. To know that he hasn’t been the first and he won’t be the last.

This isn’t a defence of Mr. Gregson, but a reality check. There is no excuse for violence. But I think there is a significant cause and effect relationship between trauma and violence. It seems to be an unending cycle for First Nations. Violence and trauma begets violence and trauma. At some point this cycle must end.

In First Nations, something has to be done about it to protect our future generations.
Right now, there is too much emphasis on rights. Healing, wellness and reconciliation need to be the key goals for this generation and the next. If we fail at these objectives, there will be no hope for nation building and economic sustainability.

Canada’s Dirty Little Secret

Tiger Woods isn’t the only one with a dirty, little secret.

Canada still has fundamental human rights challenges. This is related to the conditions and history of Canada’s First Nations people. Sadly, these challenges are not generally known outside of Canada. Even some Canadians have blinders on. Many try to refute the truth and the statistics while never stepping foot in a remote First Nation community.

Today is International Human Rights Day. 61 years ago, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlining the 20 fundamental human rights that every human being is entitled to. According to Guinness World Records, it is also the most translated document in the world.

I wish it could only be translated into Canadian.

Last week, Stephen Harper was carrying his message of human rights to China – while fully ignoring the realities of his own backyard. Canada is not squeaky clean when it comes to human rights.

Here are just a few of the main human rights issues faced by Canada’s First Nations:

Third World Conditions – Canada currently ranks 4th in the world on the United Nations human development index. However, when Indian and Northern Affairs Canada entered First Nations-data only in the index, Canada ranks 63rd. Officially, this places Canada’s First Nations firmly in the realm of third world conditions.

Quality of Life Indicators – Infant mortality, life expectancy, homelessness, inadequate housing, incidents of tuberculosis, health disease, HIV-AIDS, diabetes – First Nations in Canada are near the top of the statistics. Suicide is the leading cause of death among First Nations between the ages of 10 and 24.

Aboriginal Women – Article 3 of the Universal Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Yet, in recent years, there have been over 500 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Most are the most vulnerable people in Canada, forced into homelessness, prostitution and unsafe situations. Many women and children are forced away from their homes, due to inequalities under the Indian Act and lack of matrimonial property laws. Once again, article 17 of the Declaration states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”

Residential Schools – Article 5 states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” For decades, First Nations children were forcibly removed from the homes, families and communities and forced to attend government sanctioned, church-run residential schools. Inside they were subject to systemic assimilation, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Entire generations of people endured inhuman and degrading treatment on behalf of the government and in the name of the Lord. First Nations survivors and victims were only given an apology in June 2008. Individuals and affected families were provided long-awaited compensation. Many more are still unresolved. Many thousands of Elders, the survivors, have died in anguish without any acknowledgement. Yet, the government has yet to deal with multi-generational trauma and the affected of residential school on language and culture. A truth and reconciliation commission will be travelling throughout Canada documenting the stories from Canada’s saddest chapter in it’s history.

Child Poverty – According to Campaign 2000, one in four Aboriginal children grow up in poverty. That is utterly signficant. Canada has attempted to address child poverty, and in 1989 passed a motion in the House of Commons to rid poverty by the year 2000. Not even close. Statistics are not improving.

Child Welfare – The Assembly of First Nations is currently before the Canadian Human Rights Commission after filing a complaint against the federal government over child welfare. There are over 27,000 First Nations children in care which is considered by many to be a state of crisis. Former National Chief Phil Fontaine described the conditions as a “national disgrace”. To this day, funding of First Nations child protection agencies is woefully inadequate to address the current need, much less lead to proactive, preventative measures. The situation is similar to what was referred to as the “Sixties Scoop”, another Canadian historical taboo. In the 1960s, thousands of First Nations children were removed from their homes on reserves and placed into non-native care. Many of those children never reconnected with their First Nations culture and roots. Others were adopted out to non-native families without proper consent.

Education Inequity – Article 20 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to education.” But apparently this right is provided in varying degrees, at the discretion of the Crown. First Nations students going to school on-reserve are funded at least $2,000-$5000 less than non-native students attending public schools. On-reserve school facilities are inadequate and in many cases unsafe. As a result, the drop out rate for First Nations students is three times the Canadian average. About 70% of First Nations students on-reserve will never complete high school. This is all according to Government of Canada statistics.

Clean Drinking Water – Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,” However, there are still hundreds of boil water advisories in First Nation communities. That is boil water advisories for the entire communities, affecting every single home, affecting every single man, women and child. There is a fundamental lack of funding, standards and training for First Nations, much less the infrastructure needed to treat water and wastewater. Schools do not have clean potable water.

Indigenous Rights – Canada and the United States continues to refuse to be signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. This document entrenches the aspirations, values and rights of First Nations people including the right to have full enjoyment of the Rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not to mention the right to self-determination and self-government.

Perhaps, this message needs to be sent out during the Olympic Torch Run, leading up to and throughout the course of the 2010 Winter Olympics and perhaps during the Pan-Am Games. The message should be loud and clear during the upcoming G-8 meeting in Huntsville and the G-20 in Toronto.

I suggest that First Nations, as represented by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) should join the fledgling “G-77”, the group of seventy-seven on the world’s poorest countries as a means of contributing to world affairs and gaining international attention to Canada’s dirty little secret.