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Amnesty International launches campaign in support of equity for First Nations children

January 2011

End the discrimination tearing apart Aboriginal families and communities

Aboriginal peoples in Canada – the First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis – have lived in the lands now known as Canada for thousands of years. They have kept their unique cultures and ways of life alive through the knowledge, stories and values that young people learn from their parents and grandparents.For more than a century, the government of Canada tried to eliminate Aboriginal cultures by forcing parents to send their children to “residential schools” far from their home communities where they couldn’t speak their own languages and learn their own cultures. Many children in residential schools were violently abused. In June of 2008, the Government of Canada publicly apologized for the harm caused by the residential school system. “The government now recognizes,” the apology stated, “that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language.”

But today, more Aboriginal children than ever are being taken from their families to live with foster parents or in government institutions.

Some of these children are being taken away for their own safety because they have been abused by a family member. But most are being taken away because their parents do not receive some of the support that other families in Canada get. That makes it hard to care for children properly. Because there is such widespread poverty in many Aboriginal communities, it can be hard for families to provide for such basic things as regular, healthy meals, safe water and a warm place to sleep. In addition, some women and men who went through the residential school system grew up without mothers or fathers to show them how to be good parents.

The government is supposed to help families and communities stay together. In most communities, families that are having trouble can get advice and support from government programs to help meet their children’s needs. These kinds of programs are not available to many Aboriginal families because the government has not put enough money into them. The government spends much less money per child on services for children in First Nations communities than it does for children in non-Aboriginal communities. Yet the needs are often greater, and the costs to provide services in remote communities are often higher.

Two organizations working for Aboriginal children – the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society – have filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. This is a body, much like a court, that determines whether rights that are protected in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are in fact being respected. The two Aboriginal organizations argue that First Nations children are being discriminated against because much less money is spent keeping First Nations children safely at home than is spent on non-Aboriginal children. They filed their complaint four years ago. The government has fought against the complaint on a legal technicality, causing the hearings to be delayed again and again.

Meanwhile, more and more Aboriginal children are being put into foster homes and into institutions when they should be being cared for by their own families and in their own communities.

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