Posts tagged ‘Child Welfare’

For our Children, Justice Remains Elusive

Legalities and technicalities carry little common sense and no justice.

Yesterday, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal dismissed the case brought forward by the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. The decision was based on mere legalities and technicalities.

The Society and the AFN brought forward the case in 2007, alleging that the Government of Canada discriminates against First Nations by providing inadequate child welfare services to communities.

I use the word “alleging” but this is not an allegation. It is reality. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) does not provide the same level of services on-reserve as provincial governments do for non-native children elsewhere in Canada. The same goes for education, special education services, infrastructure, health care and so many other basic needs for First Nations people. Canada just does not provide adequate funding across the board.

However, the decision by the Human Rights Tribunal wasn’t based on these facts but legal interpretation. The Tribunal could not compare a provincially provided service with a federally provided service. According to their decision, the service provided by INAC to First Nations children cannot be compared to the level of service provided by the Provinces, as they are different and separate service providers and service recipients. The Tribunal questioned whether INAC funding to First Nations could even be considered a service. The decision suggests that the federal government can provide a different, albeit inequitable, level of service to First Nations children as long as it does so consistently to all First Nations children on-reserve.

My questions is: when will these entities of justice, ever give First Nations justice? There’s no question, it is discrimination. But because it doesn’t fall neatly into Section 5 (b) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, or doesn’t conform to the definition of differentiation of services, justice is denied again.

The same goes for government decision-making. Why does every decision made by government have to be cleared by legal? It seems that government must always assess the impact of aboriginal rights and the Crown’s duty and liability? Why can’t government make a decision that is in the best interests of First Nations rather than always protecting themselves? Why should it matter that they end up giving a little, and God forbid, move the yardstick in First Nations favour?

In the meantime, our child welfare agencies are chronically under-funded. Many exist, year to year, with crippling deficits. There are very few investments in prevention programs and customary care programs. Foster programs, many times, are voluntary and provided by relatives with little to no support. The need is tremendous.

The Federal Government will not provide any substantial child welfare funding and direct services. Why? Well, the Department of Justice will advise government not to take on further jurisdiction and liability for child welfare. If they fund First Nations child welfare providers any further, government may open themselves up to further claims of First Nations jurisdiction.

Common sense and doing the right thing are thrown out the window.

I’m sure the Tribunal Chair feels bad. I’m sure the Department of Justice lawyers feel bad. They know the reality. They know the need. But at the end of the day, they make their legal argument, then go home to their children, their dog, their white picket fences and their stately homes, all funded by Canadian justice system.

But for First Nations, and the children who bear the brunt of substandard and inequitable funding, justice remains elusive.

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.”

My Life in Retrospect, 2009

Well, here it is – my life in retrospect, 2009.  Happy New Year!

THE LOVE OF MY LIFE – It’s been a wonderful year with my partner, the Duchess of Thornhill, Deborah. She’s taken me in and we’ve built a beautiful life together so far. Everyday, I truly feel I’m the luckiest man in the world. I’m thankful to the Creator everyday for her. Her daughters are really great little people. They get along great with Katherine Faith, obviously… and the Boyz as well. We’re having our first mega-family holiday get-together on Friday. Fifteen people in all.

MY CHILDREN – They’re growing up to be wonderful people. My Boyz are so kind and generous. My Griffin is such a good-deed do-er. My Miigwans is as smart as a whip. My daughter is equally an wonderful young woman, whose grades are good. She just Loves spending time with her friends. And they are all so good to their Dad. But it’s hard being away from my kids so much.

CHANGE IN CAREER DIRECTION – 2009 marked quite a change in career direction for me. After 10 years with the Union of Ontario Indians, I’ve moved from the front-line of First Nations politics to the machinery of government. It’s quite a different pace moving from a 24/7 job in the Grand Chief’s office to a singular responsibility within government. But the objective is still the same and I’m working just as hard for our people.

JOHN BEAUCAGE CAMPAIGN – In 2009, I had the career highlight of my life. I had the pleasure of managing John Beaucage’s campaign to become National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Unfortunately, the best man doesn’t always win. Despite running a campaign on the best platform and the best values – the Chiefs chose to elect Shawn Atleo to succeed the great Phil Fontaine. They’ll be looking for something else next time around, I’m sure. John is an amazing man, and a great leader. Who knows what the future will bring him. He will be running the Olympic torch tomorrow in Parry Sound.

LIFE IN THE LODGE – I’ve written this year-end journal over the years, but I rarely include any references to my true life – as a Midewiwin man. This year was the first time I’ve had my Boyz in the Lodge with me as Midewiwins. They are still very young and have lots of time to discover what it means to be Mide. The Three Fires School looks great with the new addition. Lots of new space. It’s also great to see the young people from Shingwauk attending ceremonies each time. They are a great group.

MY BLOG – This year, I had more of a chance to write. It is something that I really enjoy. I’ve been able to write about human rights, First Nations issues even the environment and the economy. I hope I’ll be able to write more and more.

NUMBERS – It seems people are reading my stuff on my website too.

• I had more visitors to my website than any other time in the past 14 years.
• Although I won’t reach 1 million visitors before December 31, I’m pretty darn close: 969,414.
• From 1997 to 2007, I had only 304,351 visitors;
• Web traffic numbers went up substantially when I started marketing my website.
• 93,445 page views in 2007.
• 262,844 page views in 2008.
• This year I’ve had 308,774 page views so far.
• That number will go up by a few thousand once I post this new blog entry.

NEWS STORY OF THE YEAR – To great fanfare, Barrack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States took office in 2009. He inspired many of us. But for the red-neck majority in the US, his message was met with skepticism, boycotts and measures of racism. In his first year, he won the Nobel Peace Prize and dealt with health care reform – head on. Now can he address middle-east peace and terrorism?

CLIMATE-GATE – The biggest non-news story of the year was “climate-gate”. The Copenhagan climate summit that wasn’t. No commitments by the major governments of the world. No carbon reduction targets. Absolutely, no leadership from Canada whatsoever. In fact, it should be an embarrassment for all Canada. Canada – the fossil of the year! Lots of good will in the agreement but nothing binding. I seriously doubt that the agreement that was signed in Denmark will lead to any drastic changes needed to address climate change.

FILM – I Love the movies. In 2009 I seen 48 movies in the theatre. Definitely, the most ever. The best film of the year was Avatar. Another James Cameron epic blockbuster. This year there were a lot of similarities between the film world and indigenous peoples. It began with District 9, a film about an oppressed alien race forced onto “reservations” in South Africa. On the surface, District 9 may seem to have more ties to apartheid than indigenous people. But what most people don’t know is that apartheid was based on the Canadian Indian reserve system. It is another of Canada’s great contributions to world history. The message is clear in Avatar – protect the environment and the world’s indigenous peoples. This movie had the best ending of the year. Sometimes I wish we can turn back the clock and reality, climb aboard our dragons and march the oppressors, at machine gun-point, onto space ships bound for another world.

MY HEALTH – Well I’m apparently in a holding pattern. Spent the first half of the year in the gym and just gave it up. I thought my diabetes was under control, until I had to miss Christmas dinner on a fast to reduce my sugar-induced diabetic episode. I must avoid sugar, especially home-made ice cream, as well as eat in regular intervals. I don’t believe in new years resolutions – but I’ve got to take control of my own health. No one will do it for me.

VACATION 2009 – Went to The Bahamas in May and snorkelled with sharks on the continental shelf. Spent the summer in Saskatchewan and Winnipeg with Deb’s family. Lots of good memories. In October, we spent a long weekend in New York City. Ate at Nobu and seen The Lion King.

LONGEST DRIVE – 1,286 kilometres between Toronto and Cedar, Wisconsin for Fall Ceremonies.

LONGEST DRIVE – Laurentide Golf Course, Hole 6, about 290 yards.

GOLF GAMES – 4. The most in five years. I hope I get to play a lot more in 2010. My game is really, really rusty.

FEWEST NIGHTS IN A HOTEL – In 2009, I spent fewer nights in a hotel than the previous 5 years. I averaged about 100 nights in a hotel in 2007 and 2008. I may not reach Delta Privilege Platinum this year. I miss the Delta Chelsea and their cherry jello with the canned peaches in them.

POW-WOW TIME – This year, because of the campaign, career and family obligations – I wasn’t able to enjoy time on the pow-wow trail. It’s difficult to balance so many things in life and pow-wow has had to fall by the wayside. I want to thank the Taabik Singers for allowing me to sing with them for the past few years. I hope to catch up with them as often as I can, and perhaps MC a few pow-wows from time to time.

I CHEERED IN 2009 – …for Barrack Obama. In 2008, I actually cheered for Hillary Clinton.

I JEERED IN 2009 – … over the goofy paranoia and sensational media coverage of the H1N1 Flu pandemic which was a little stronger than the usual seasonal flu virus.

I LAUGHED WHEN – … we all make fun of Nicole, who seems to move like Eeyore to the bus-stop in the morning.

I CRIED WHEN – … I lost my uncle Henry.

MEMORABLE MEAL – Definitely, the Chef’s Choice at Nobu in New York City. I also really liked the spiducci at Joe and Fiona’s house.

MEMORABLE MOMENT – The Longest Date: March 27-29, 2009. Beginning at Peter Pan’s on Queen West and A Haunting in Connecticut. The long walk from Queen, up Bathurst, across Bloor and down Yonge Street. Late night sweets at Just Desserts. In the morning, up to John Street and into Thornhill to the Duchess’ residence. Another movie (I Love you, Man) then back downtown again.

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.