Governments Have Failed Indigenous Children

A Canadian children’s rights advocate has told a major conference on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children that children are powerful advocates for their own rights - and governments in Canada and Australia have failed their most vulnerable children.

Professor Cindy Blackstock, Director of The Caring Society of Canada and Associate Professor at the University of Alberta, told delegates at the fifth Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) National Conference in Cairns that the key to progress was greater engagement and participation by children themselves in programs and services that affected them.

“We work for children - so we need to work with children to ensure we are doing right by them and their families,” Prof Blackstock said.

“Similar to Aboriginal children in Australia, First Nations children in Canada are overrepresented in child welfare care due to neglect driven by poverty, poor housing and substance misuse.

“Governments are simply not doing all they can.

“We have to remember that just because we’re small, doesn’t mean that we can’t stand tall.”

A member of the Gitksan Nation, Prof Blackstock has spent more than 25 years working with child and family services, and has authored more than 50 publications on the welfare and rights of First Nations children.

 “These are all solvable problems but equitable, flexible and culturally-based funding is required to empower community solutions.”

During a keynote and a workshop she discussed strategies for engaging young people – a process she considers crucial to effective advocacy and service delivery.

“All of our activities are completely free to participate in so that all children, regardless of income, are able to engage and make a positive difference in the world.”

Prof Blackstock says she has seen first hand the importance of civic engagement to effective advocacy.

“In 2007, the Assembly of First Nations together with the Caring Society filed a human rights complaint alleging that the Canadian Government’s provision of First Nations child welfare was discriminatory.

“In 2013, the Canadian Government appeared before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to answer the allegations. Beginning with only 20 supporters, the case now has over 12,000 people and organisations followers worldwide, making it the most watched human rights case in Canadian history.

Prof Blackstock attributes this success to the unique power of what she calls ‘mosquito advocacy’.

“Inspired by the mosquito, we used multiple public education and engagement strategies to invite caring Canadians and people of the world to watch the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on First Nations child welfare,” she said.

“It proves that one person and small groups can change the world.”

However, Prof Blackstock stressed that large-scale action and long-term change must be anchored by basic principles of respect and equity.

“We focus on implementing what we call ‘the first domino solution’ which is the solution that makes solving the problem possible,” she said.

“In our case, we believe that respect for self-determination, culture and language, as well as addressing causes of disadvantage and ensuring equitably resources solutions are the bedrock of progress.”

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