Renowned child welfare activist Cindy Blackstock says the Yukon’s First Nations are lacking the resources they require to actualize self-
determination and make a real difference in children’s lives.
“I’ve been really inspired by a lot of the good work that’s being done in the Yukon,” Blackstock told reporters Tuesday afternoon in
“I see the potential that’s there, if they had the adequate resources to draw down that power in areas such as children’s services and
Blackstock, who is of B.C.’s Gitxsan First Nation, is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (The Caring Society).
It’s responsible for filing a human rights complaint which led to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordering compensation to youth and
families harmed by the child welfare system.
This week, a new culturally-specific training program for family support workers launched in Whitehorse (see coverage, p. 5). Blackstock travelled to the territory to address the 18 students of that program.
She made herself available to media Tuesday to discuss the Yukon, the importance of family support workers and her vision for the future.
The visit was important, in part, because family support workers are pivotal to child welfare, Blackstock said. Proper support is one way to
heal the damage done by generations of discrimination.
“Part of that remedy (for inequality) is putting people on the ground, like family support workers, who are able to help families through that
trauma and keep kids safely in their communities,” she said.
First Nations children have frequently been separated, unnecessarily, from their families and communities, Blackstock noted.
National data say 90 per cent of children who are taken from their families were not experiencing physical harm at the time of their
“That’s not to say there aren’t other forms of harm, but that is to suggest that things like family support workers would go a long way to
keeping a lot of those kids at home,” she said.
She added there is marked improvement for children in the territory thanks to funding allocated by Jordan’s Principle, a federal initiative
aiming to provide equal access to services for First Nations youth.
“It’s just a glimpse, and we need to see more of it,” she said.
She is “not convinced” the federal government is providing an adequate amount of prevention services, such as meeting the needs of
children in their communities, she added. This requires more flexibility in resource allocation.
Blackstock said the provision of funding should co-exist with conversations about jurisdiction and self-determination. This is because you can’t successfully implement one without the other.
“If you don’t have resources to implement your own laws and to develop those laws, then you don’t really have jurisdiction. It becomes
kind of a paper tiger,” she said.
Blackstock is seeking a more holistic approach to conversations about child welfare. She referenced the Marshall Plan, an American post-
war initiative for rebuilding western Europe after it was ravaged by the Second World War.
She wants to see a similarly comprehensive and expeditious plan for addressing the inequalities faced by First Nations children.
She suggested the Canadian government is stuck in a cycle of discrimination and apology, from residential schools to the ’60s
“We have to ensure the government reforms itself in ways that stop that discrimination, and creating that ‘Marshall Plan’ is part of it,” she
Blackstock is still litigating with Canada on the issue of compensation for families affected by the child welfare system.
In 2016, the Human Rights Tribunal found Canada to be racially discriminating against children and ordered it to stop. Blackstock told
media the Canadian government is now facing nine non-compliance orders.
Seeing Canada comply with the tribunal order, and pay compensation, is one of two goals for the upcoming years, she added.
Secondly, she wants to see Canada implement a “Spirit Bear Plan”, which would calculate the total cost of inequality to First Nations families and children.
“Let’s see the big ticket of that, when you add up shortfalls in education, early childhood (and) other programs.”
Despite these hefty objectives, Blackstock gives the impression of optimism. She sees hope in the new generation.
On Feb. 13, The Caring Society’s Have a Heart Day will see 2,000 children write letters to local politicians, demanding movement toward
equality. The wide participation of these events hint at the potential for a better future.
“If we can raise a generation of non-Indigenous children who don’t tolerate this discrimination, and a generation of First Nations kids who
know they’re worth the money, then the problem is solved,” she said.
“That’s what really gives me hope: is that the First Nations kids aren’t alone anymore.”