The keynote speaker at a Council of Yukon First Nations education conference, Cindy Blackstock, speaks to media at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 28. Blackstock is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, an organization focused on safety and well-being of First Nations youth and their families through education, public policy campaigns and providing quality resources to support communities. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Indigenous children’s advocate calls for equality

Cindy Blackstock is in Whitehorse as part of an education conference

The keynote speaker at a Council of Yukon First Nations education conference says she is stressing just how important equality is for First Nations, Inuit and Métis children.

For too long First Nations in Canada have received less and been judged by others as if they get more, Cindy Blackstock told reporters Jan. 28 at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre where the CYFN “Our Children. Our Way” education conference was underway until Jan. 29.

Blackstock is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, an organization focused on First Nations youth and families which provides education and community resources and has been behind a number of public policy campaigns.

She also works as a professor at McGill University’s School of Social Work and has been involved in a number of organizations and efforts to bring equality to First Nations children and families. That has included involvement in the 2018 case in front of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal which found the Canadian government discriminated against First Nations children living on reserves due to underfunding of the on-reserve child welfare system.

Speaking to reporters in Whitehorse, Blackstock said that inequality remains with the federal government doing little to address the issue.

She pointed out there’s nine non-compliance orders against the federal government from the human rights tribunal case. Compensation that was ordered has not been provided, Blackstock said.

“Every kid should be able to get a clean glass of water,” she said, adding education, internet access and other basics to the list of what should be available to all children.

She argued an effort on par with that of the Marshall Plan that was used to rebuild Europe after World War II is needed to address the inequality faced by First Nations children.

“We can’t have this endless cycle,” she said as she described the federal government instituting systems like residential school or the Sixties scoop and then apologizing, only to turn around and do it again, but now in the form of not providing the resources needed to ensure equality. It’s important as well that resources are provided based on the needs of the children and not based on a set dollar amount.

Blackstock said her hope is that as more Canadians become aware of the inequalities they will hold the federal government to account.

Feb. 14 will mark Have A Heart Day in Ottawa, where thousands of kids are anticipated to gather and send that message to political leaders.

It’s one example of action Canadians can take to hold the federal government to account, she said.

Blackstock said that along with bringing her message to the Yukon, she also wants to hear the experience of First Nation children in the territory.

From what she’s come to understand in the Yukon, there’s been progress over the last year-and-a-half under Jordan’s Principle which aims to ensure equitable access to government services. And that’s meant more services like education assessments and supports to families offered.

“That’s really good,” she said.

She added though that while it may be a start there is much more to be done in making sure the needs of children and families are met and advocates such as herself will do whatever they can to support organizations like CYFN in those efforts.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

Child advocate

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