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It’s time to make it right for First Nations kids off-reserve

The latest Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling puts the power back in the hands of First Nations Governments to define identity

Coast Salish Territory- Indigenous Child Welfare Directors are applauding a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling which will broaden Jordan’s Principal eligibility criteria for essential health, education and social services for First Nations kids.

Friday’s Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling is the latest in a long series of CHRT rulings since 2016 that the government of Canada is discriminating against First Nations kids and causing them harm.

With the most recent ruling the Tribunal has ordered the federal government to work with the Assembly of First Nations and others the parties involved in the complaint to expand eligibility criteria to include First Nations, without status, who live off-reserve. A funding gap that Indigenous Child Welfare Directors say has tied their hands in being able to help some of the kids who need it the most.

“As an urban agency providing support to Indigenous children and youth living off-reserve, we continue to witness this discrimination first hand. Said Jennifer Chukry, Directors Forum Executive Member and Executive Director of Surrounded by Cedar Child and Families services “There are delays in processing Jordan’s Principal requests as Canada works out whether or not the child/youth is eligible for registration. This is coupled with extreme delays in Canada’s registration process along with the complexity of having to prove a child/youth’s connection to their First Nation’s identity when there can be significant gaps in are gaps in familial histories. Our agency is also now experiencing the denial of previously approved funding requests for Indigenous children/youth in care. This denial is based on the fact that that child/youth is in care and Canada states that our agency should be responsible for the funding – the exact argument over who should pay that resulted in the creation of Jordan’s Principal.”

Friday’s ruling also puts more power regarding Jordan’s Principle eligibility into the hands of First Nation governments. Where prior rulings affirmed that status First Nations children both on and off reserve are eligible for Jordan’s Principle, the latest ruling recognizes that First Nations children who do not have status and are not eligible for status but are recognized by their First Nation are eligible for Jordan’s Principle. The ruling also clarifies that First Nations children, who have a parent/guardian who has Indian Act status or is eligible for Indian Act status can make requests for services under Jordan’s Principle.

“After over 100 years of disruptive practice aimed at reducing the number of “Status Indians” eligible for services, this ruling returns some power to our governments to determine eligibility. It’s an important step to addressing past and current wrongs and it’s frustrating that equal access to services requires repeated human rights appeals. Every gain has been so hard fought, on behalf of all Indigenous Child Welfare Directors in BC I share my gratitude and thanks to Dr. Cindy Blackstock for her relentless commitment to First Nations kids.” said Mary Teegee, Chair of the BC Directors Forum which represents Delegated Aboriginal Agencies in British Columbia and Executive Director of Carrier Sekani Child and Family services.

Jordan’s Principle is a needs-based program. In past decisions, Tribunal ruled that Canada cannot take away from other First Nations programs like housing, schools, education, in order to fund the expansion of Jordan’s Principle. Regardless of residency or status First Nation children should receive services that are substantively equality and culturally appropriate. Jordan’s Principle was intended to make sure all First Nations children living in Canada can access the supports and services they need when they need them and without prejudice. This Tribunal order ensures the intention of Jordan’s Principle is fully realized.

The Directors Forum, a coalition of executives responsible for managing the 24 delegated Aboriginal Agencies in BC, agencies representing 60% of First Nations in the province. As a collective and expert voice on child welfare matters, the Directors Forum bring decades of frontline experience working with Indigenous children and families.