The Canadian federal government came to a much-anticipated $40 billion CAD ($31.5 billion USD) agreement with Indigenous leaders to compensate First Nations families harmed by the country’s long history of forcibly removing First Nations children from their homes and placing them into foster care, where many reported abuse, physical harm and trauma.
According to Indigenous Services Canada, half of the money will be used to help children and families who have been harmed by child welfare systems on First Nation reserves or in the Yukon. The rest will go towards long-term reforms over five years, including support for those who are aging out of foster homes.
More than 200,000 children and youth could be eligible to receive financial compensation, according to Manitoba’s Assembly of First Nations.
“No amount of money can reconnect First Nations children and youth with their cultures nor reverse the suffering experienced by First Nations children, youth, their families and communities,”In a statement, the Government of Canada stated. “We recognize the harms experienced by the children, youth and families who continue to suffer because of Canada’s discrimination.”
In the coming months, the federal government and Indigenous leaders will talk through the agreement’s details before a final agreement is submitted to a federal court and human rights tribunal for approval.
After more than a decade-long dispute between the federal government, First Nations representatives and agencies, the deal was reached.
Here’s what we know about the deal:
Who will be eligible?
Any First Nations child living on reservation or in Yukon who was taken from their homes between April 1, 1990 and March 31, 20,22 along with their parents and caregivers will be eligible to receive compensation. This part of the agreement is being funded by $20 billion.
Compensation is also available to children who were did not receive or were delayed in receiving essential care between April 1, 1991 and Dec 11, 2007, as well as children who did not receive care due to the Canadian government’s “narrow definition” of Jordan’s Principle, the statement read.
The second part, which includes $20 billion, will be spent over five-years to reform First Nations Child and Family Services Program, support First Nations young people aging out the child welfare program, and develop preventative services to keep families together.
The money will also go toward reforming Jordan’s Principle and other programs that have been plagued with discrimination and non-compliance.
What Is Jordan’s Principle?
Jordan’s Principle is a government program aimed to ensure First Nations children have the same access to healthcare, education and social needs if they require.
Jordan River Anderson was a young Cree Cree boy from Manitoba who gave the initiative its name. Anderson was born in 1999 and was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition. Anderson couldn’t leave the hospital for his health reasons.
Doctors said that he was healthy enough to return home at the age of two, provided he had a caregiver to assist him with his medical needs.
Jordan could not leave the hospital because of disputes over who should pay. Three years later, he died in the hospital, at age five.
The House of Commons approved the initiative in Jordan’s name in 2007. It was designed to ensure that no First Nations child has to go through bureaucratic hassles to get healthcare or social services.
But the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found in 2016 that the Government of Canada applied a limited scope in its use of the Jordan Principle, and it is believed that many children the Jordan’s Principle was meant to support did not receive the help they needed, or were delayed in getting help.
The landmark $40 billion agreement will allocate funds to support repairing the implementation of Jordan’s Principle.
How will money be distributed to the recipients?
The final details of the agreement are still being worked out. However, in 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled $40,000 should be paid for each First Nations child placed unnecessarily into foster care.
Advocates argue that a minimum of six figures should be paid for compensation. However, different circumstances should receive more funding.
How did the deal come to be?
The historic deal was the culmination of almost 15 years of complaints and debates, which began in 2007. First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Assembly of First Nations filed an application under the Canadian Human Rights Act claiming discrimination against First Nations children by the federal governments underfunded child welfare system on reservations. CBC News.
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found in 2016 that the government’s discrimination against First Nations children has caused “trauma and harm to the highest degree, causing pain and suffering,” CBC News reported.
The deal was struck in light of the thousands of bodies discovered in mass graves near former residential school sites in Canada last summer. Many experts believe there are many more bodies in unmarked grave sites yet to be uncovered.
What Policies Led Indigenous Children to Be Disproportionately Targeted?
From the late 1950s to through the 1980s, several provinces enacted different policies that made it so Indigenous children were taken from their communities and adopted into white families. This era later became known as the Sixties Scoop.
Social workers said that reservations could not provide adequate care for Indigenous children, and to be raised among Euro-centric values would better support those children’s development.
In reality, the policies tore young children away from their families and cultures, and many argued that the government should have instead better funded social services and education available on reservations.
“It can cause great trauma when you are taken from your family. You are taken from your only source of comfort and put in a home with strangers.” Sixties Scoop survivor Mary Burton, who now runs a Winnipeg-based group that supports families involved in the social services system, told CBC News. “You will have fewer problems if you cause as little disruption as possible to the family than if you took the children from them.”
Prior to that, many Indigenous children were taken from their communities and forced to attend residential schools, a form of boarding school run by the government in connection with the Catholic Church. There, beatings and sexual abuse was rampant. The Canadian government later revealed the objective of the residential schools was to erase Indigenous heritage over time.
The Government of Canada has acknowledged that survivors of both the events, alongside their communities, led to the present day deal.
How Many Indigenous Children Are Affected by the Foster Care System Today?
While residential schools and policies that forced the adoption of Indigenous children into white families no longer continue today, Indigenous children are still disproportionately represented in the foster care system.
More than 52% of children in Canada’s foster care system are Indigenous, yet Indigenous children only make up of 7% of all children in Canada, the Washington Post reported, citing a 2016 census.
In Manitoba alone, there are approximately 10,000 kids in the care system – 91% of whom are Indigenous, according to a report published by provincial government officials, CBC News reported.
Funding from the deal will also be allocated to support efforts to strengthen family relations, as well as support preventative measures, instead of previous intervention policies.