- there are more First Nations youth in government care today than at the height of the residential school travesty in Canada
- funding for on -reserve schools is 25 per cent less than funding for public schools and
- only 40 per cent of first nations students on reserve graduate.
Something should be done about this. Somebody should do something.
In fact there is and they are. This past week Cindy Blackstock, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) and the assembly of First Nations enjoyed a major legal victory. On April 18th the Federal Court overturned a ruling of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal which had dismissed their complaint without hearing any arguments. FNCFCS alleges that the Government of Canada is discriminating against First Nations children by underfunding child welfare services. The recent ruling paves the way for a new Human Rights Tribunal hearing before a newly constituted panel of adjudicators.
Not only has our federal government been actively opposing the court case and original human rights complaint but also, has placed Cindy under surveillance. In November of 2011 it came to light that officials from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs are tailing her, showing up at more than 70 of her speeches and appearances, taking notes, following her Facebook page and sharing what they find with the Department of Justice. (source CBC)
There are many social policy issues that have defied solutions over decades. Support for First Nations people is certainly one of them. No government can lay claim to solutions and few service providers inside or outside First Nations would claim omnipotence. We are faced with a tough stubborn challenge that has resisted everyone's best and meagre efforts. For example, when Sheila Fraser retired as Canada's Auditor General she wrote:
I find it really tragic that after ten years, over thirty audits of first nations issues on reserves, a fair bit of money and hard work by public servants, conditions are worse today than ten years ago… We can’t keep doing things the same way. Obviously it’s just not working.
There are two pre-conditions for solving tough problems.
The first is to improve how we work together. Any solution no matter how innovative must be implemented within an eco-system of players comprising friends, allies, opponents and strangers. If there is no capacity to work together the best and worst solutions will be undermined. And we will get a repeat of past failed efforts. Court cases, human rights tribunals, personal surveillance are not conducive to creating this enabling environment, to nurturing trust and respect.
The second is for organizations, agencies and advocates to admit they are flummoxed, baffled and desperate – that they don't know the solutions or indeed how to arrive at them – that, as Sheila Fraser stated, – it's obviously not working. This move from hubris to humility opens up the possibility for rethinking the problem, for re framing the solutions, for exploring ideas you might otherwise reject, for taking risks, for entertaining new approaches. Businesses do this naturally. They have to constantly rethink their business model. They call it R&D. Otherwise they will go out of business – think Kodak, or video stores. Before innovative solutions (business or social) can be introduced it is essential to put aside your claims of omnipotence and at least admit you don't have all the answers. This is tough for many of us but particularly for our governments who are assailed on all sides with criticism. Their protective shell is quite thick.
There may be some satisfaction in getting your case before the Human Rights Tribunal again but I suspect Cindy and other advocates, inside and outside government, would rather get on with the tougher job of finding and implementing solutions. I look forward to the day when politicians, public servants, First Nations, Aboriginal, Metis, funders and advocates can put down their legal tools and work differently together.
NOTE: Vancouver residents can see Cindy speak this Tuesday April 24th at the Central Library, 350 West Georgia, Alice McKay Room – 7:00 – 8:30
For further Reading:
The Tyee – Taking on the Feds for Aboriginal Equality