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Indigenous Canadians take govt to court on welfare inequity

Indigenous Canadians take their government to court over funding inequities in child welfare funding – a case study for New Zealand
Public Health Association media release

A native Canadian child advocate and academic told the Public Health Association’s annual conference at Pipitea Campus, Victoria University, Wellington today, that indigenous people must not be afraid to use the courts to address systemic injustices against indigenous children.

“First Nations children are dramatically over-represented in the Canadian child welfare system and there is significant documentation that inequities in child welfare funding on reserves are a contributing factor,” Dr Cindy Blackstock said.

“Traditional public policy change strategies had been tried for over a decade but Canada failed to implement the two solutions jointly developed with First Nations.

“So in 2007, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (the Caring Society), a small organisation working for First Nations children, and the Assembly of First Nations filed a human rights case against the Canadian Government alleging longstanding funding inequities in child welfare amounted to racial discrimination against First Nations children.

“When First Nations filed the case, about 20 supporters attended a news conference. Five years later, First Nations were making significant gains in the legal case, court rooms were overrun with people coming to watch the case, over 10,000 people and organisations from across the world were following the case online and thousands of Canadian children were marching on Canadian legislatures and parliament demanding equity. The success was achieved through the development, implementation and refinement of mosquito advocacy.”

Dr Blackstock explained that mosquito advocacy is inspired by the following mosquito-like characteristics: 1) small and agile; 2) goal oriented; 3) infectious messages; 4) swarming; 5) persistence; 6) biting (using peaceful non-voluntary public policy change techniques when needed).

“Flawed and inequitable federal government policies are at the headwaters of systemic poverty, poor housing and inequitable service access on First Nations reserves in Canada, undermining the safety and wellbeing of children and their families.

“While other public policy groups are also influenced by government agendas, First Nations are more deeply pressured because of the Canadian government’s central role in the multi-generational impacts of colonialism.

“Maori share a similar colonial history and relationship with central government. The profile of Maori child poverty is similar to that of Native Canadians. I encourage Maori child advocates to embrace mosquito advocacy and use all the tools at their disposal to achieve change for Maori children.”

-Ends-

About Dr Cindy Blackstock

Dr Blackstock is a pre-eminent indigenous child advocate in Canada and Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society – a not for profit organisation that advocates for equity in funding for children’s services on reserves. She is also an Associate Professor at the University of Alberta.

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