Cindy Blackstock is a tireless champion in the fight for equality and end government discrimination against First Nations Children. She is the CEO of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, representing her organization in federal courts.
And coming up is the next big event, as Blackstock is preparing to continue their 14 year battle against the Canadian Federal System and provide financial and living quality support to the residents of the First Nations reserves. The next court date will run from June 14th to June 18th 2021, at the Federal Court. The court hearing will consist of the Federal Government’s applications for judicial review of two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) orders.
The first order was issued by the CHRT through the Federal Court to the Federal Government to pay $40,000 to children living on reserves who have been continuously denied public care and services, this was passed in September of 2019. The second order made by the CHRT was ensuring that children living off-reserve were covered by Jordan’s Principle, which is a child’s needs principle which allows First Nations children to have the right to funding and other public services from the Federal Government.
Cindy Blackstock was born in Burns Lake, in the middle of British Columbia in 1964, and grew up to receive various degrees including a Bachelor of Arts degree (UBC), 2 Master degrees in Jurisprudence in Children’s Law (McGill) and Policy (Loyola University Chicago), as well as a PhD in Social Work (University of Toronto). After ending her long term studies at the multiple universities she’s attended, she became an influential voice on Indigenous Canadian topics like social work and child rights. She has spoken loud and clear on the topic of racial and systemic inequalities the First Nations children have in public services.
An iconic symbol representing the children who aren’t receiving proper care and service from the government is a white teddy bear, known better as “Spirit Bear.” It was a present from the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in Prince George, BC and was gifted to her in 2007. Since then she has arrived and fought with it by her side at all her court dates against the government.
“This bear is now 10 years old,” she told CTV News. “You can imagine what’s happened to children as the federal government fought his decision originally, and then hasn’t complied with it. They’re being removed from their families, they’re not getting the education that they deserve, and any further delays really pile up on the hopes and dreams of kids and are unacceptable to me.”
In 2016 the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) ruled that the federal government was violating the human rights of First Nations children and ordered them to reform the child welfare system.
In the face of government failure to comply with their order, in 2019, the tribunal declared that the Canadian government was “devoid of caution with little to no regard to the consequences of its behavior towards First Nations children and their families.” This was, in the tribunal’s words, a “worst-case scenario.”
The federal government appealed the damages that the tribunal awarded to the victims. That appeal will be heard in court on July 14.
While in preparation for her next court date to carry on with pushing the Canadian government to follow through with the order and provide these families with financial aid, the discovery the remains of 215 children buried at a former Kamloops residential school has drawn further attention to the Canadian governments actions and inactions regarding First Nations children.
“These children are just some of the children who died in the schools,” Blackstock said. “There are many others in unmarked graves across the country.”
She along with many others are pressuring the government to officially declare a nation-wide day of mourning for this tragic finding.
“I’m absolutely convinced that Canadians are way in front of the government on this one,” Cindy Blackstock told the Toronto Star. “Their attitudes have changed; they’ve shifted, they’ve become more aware and want this kind of nonsense to stop.”
But she emphasizes that it is essential that the government catches up and shows it with substantive action.
“Words don’t change children’s lives. Real action by the government and equality would,” Blackstock said.
Image Credits: Thompson Rivers University via Flickr