Mi’kmaw Family & Children’s Services “ecstatic” with human rights ruling

A mother and son at the 2010 Halifax Powwow/Photo by Stephen Brake

The executive director of the Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services in Nova Scotia welcomes a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that found the federal government discriminated against indigenous children in foster care.

“We’re absolutely ecstatic,” Arlene Johnson, said when reached by phone in Eskasoni First Nation Tuesday.

“We’re over the moon happy because it’s been nine years that we’ve been waiting for, you know, a decision in favour of aboriginal child welfare,” she said.

On Tuesday, the tribunal released its decision which concluded the federal government discriminated against aboriginal children for not providing equal funding for family and children’s services on reserve compared to similar services offered by the various provinces.

“First Nations children and families living on reserve and in the Yukon are discriminated against in the provision of child and family services by AANDC,” the tribunal wrote in its decision.

Federal Government discriminated against aboriginal children – tribunal ruling

In its 182-page decision, the tribunal ruled the funding formula the federal government used “has a number of shortcomings and creates incentives to remove children from their homes and communities.”

The funding formula “is not in line with current provincial child welfare legislation and standards promoting prevention and least disruptive measures for children and families,” the tribunal wrote.

“As a result many First Nations children and their families are denied an equitable opportunity to remain with their families or to be reunited in a timely manner.”

The tribunal ordered the federal government to “cease the discriminatory practice and take measures to redress and prevent it.” It also called for the federal government to reform the current funding model “to reflect the findings in this decision.”

The tribunal also ordered the federal government “to cease applying its narrow definition of Jordan’s Principle and to take measures to immediately implement the full meaning and scope of Jordan’s Principle.”

“Jordan’s Principle” is named after Jordan River Anderson from Norway House, Manitoba, who was five years old when he died in hospital while the federal and Manitoba governments argued over which government should pay his special needs care.

The entire Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decision is available on its website.

In 2007, the House of Commons passed a motion for the federal government to adopt Jordan’s Principle which called for the first government of contact to pay for a child’s essential service or services and then seek reimbursement afterwards. It was meant to prevent First Nations children from being denied essential services or experiencing delays.

The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed the complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2007. The federal government tried and failed to have the case dismissed in federal court.

Current funding is inadequate – Arlene Johnson

Currently, Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services isn’t able to provide more preventative programs due to the lack of funding issue, Johnson said.

“Bottom line, we were just receiving a fraction of the funding to deliver (aboriginal) child welfare in Nova Scotia compared to our provincial counterparts,” she said.

Johnson said the child and welfare agency needs more money to expand on services such as family group conferencing, family and community healing projects and develop its own adoption program.

“Everything is going hand in hand with the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to the … equitable funding for child welfare agencies,” Johnson said.

Johnson said her organization will be meeting Wednesday and Thursday to discuss its role in implementing the tribunal’s decision.

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.