LET’S TALK ABOUT BA­SIC INDIGE­NOUS RIGHTS, THEN REC­ON­CIL­I­A­TION

StarMetro Calgary - - BIG OPINIONS - Tanya Talaga

Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is now of­fi­cially over.

To be fair, it was al­ways a slow, me­an­der­ing, bro­k­endown en­gine, limp­ing along the track, led by politi­cians who never quite knew where the train was go­ing.

Most Indige­nous lead­ers never use the word “rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” be­cause it is not plau­si­ble when First Peo­ples are still fight­ing for ba­sic hu­man rights — for wa­ter, land, so­cial ser­vices, health care and ed­u­ca­tion.

The real­ity of 2019 looks a lot like Canada’s colo­nial past.

This week, we are see­ing this play out clearly and painfully on two sep­a­rate but re­lated fronts.

On Wednesday, Cindy Black­stock will walk into an Ot­tawa hear­ing room to be­gin the 12th year of her fight to end the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s long-stand­ing and well-doc­u­mented racial dis­crim­i­na­tion against First Na­tions kids.

Black­stock, the tire­less ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the First Na­tions Child and Fam­ily Car­ing So­ci­ety, is once again chal­leng­ing Ot­tawa to com­ply with Jor­dan’s Prin­ci­ple – a prin­ci­ple af­firmed unan­i­mously by Par­lia­ment in 2007 that aims to en­sure Indige­nous kids liv­ing on and off re­serve are given their fair share.

This time, Black­stock is look­ing to make sure kids who do not fit Canada’s def­i­ni­tion of a Sta­tus In­dian un­der the In­dian Act re­ceive ur­gent health care if they need it.

Law since 1876, the In­dian Act is a pa­ter­nal­is­tic piece of leg­is­la­tion that has his­tor­i­cally gov­erned ev­ery as­pect of Indige­nous life in Canada. Through it, Canada es­tab­lished the res­i­den­tial schools, and to this day the act dic­tates who can re­ceive treaty rights and who can­not.

Black­stock told Canada in July 2018 that the def­i­ni­tion of “First Na­tions child” for the pur­pose of im­ple­ment­ing Jor­dan’s Prin­ci­ple needed to be broad­ened. First Na­tions chil­dren with­out sta­tus who live off-re­serve but are rec­og­nized as mem­bers of their na­tion should not be ex­cluded, she ar­gued. It should be up to the na­tions, not the gov­ern­ment, to de­ter­mine who is a mem­ber of the com­mu­nity.

“Chil­dren in life-threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tions shouldn’t be left hold­ing the bag,” Black­stock said. “I don’t want this to be about blood quan­tum.”

Then, last Novem­ber, she heard of a case of a 20-mon­thold girl with con­gen­i­tal hyper-in­sulism — a con­di­tion that causes ex­ces­sive in­sulin se­cre­tion. The baby did not have sta­tus but her mother and ma­ter­nal grand­mother do.

Ot­tawa re­fused to foot the $1,400 bill for the child’s di­ag­nos­tic test so the so­ci­ety paid for it.

This, af­ter Black­stock spent more than a decade fight­ing Canada to live up to the sim­ple prom­ise of treat­ing all chil­dren equally and af­ter the hu­man rights tri­bunal re­peat­edly re­buked the feds.

For a pe­riod, Ot­tawa seemed to be com­ing around, pro­vid­ing thou­sands of chil­dren with ser­vices they were pre­vi­ously de­nied.

Then, sud­denly, all that good progress seemed to grind to a halt. “Why?,” asked Black­stock. “Is it the up­com­ing fed­eral elec­tion? Did the amount of money (needed) dawn on them? Or was it the depth of the dis­crim­i­na­tion?”

Black­stock, who em­pha­sizes that she isn’t in this fight to make Ot­tawa “look bad,” will be ask­ing for an or­der for the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide ur­gent health ser­vices to chil­dren pend­ing a full hear­ing.

“Our job is to make sure they spend the money to treat all chil­dren with eq­uity. The gov­ern­ment has the money. They have to stop pri­or­i­tiz­ing other mat­ters over chil­dren,” she said.

Black­stock’s bat­tle is tak­ing place as the coun­try heaves and rup­tures from the ar­rests of 14 First Na­tions peo­ple in North­ern Bri­tish Co­lum­bia de­fend­ing their own land against a pipe­line. Late Mon­day, heav­ily armed mem­bers of the RCMP climbed over wooden sticks and hand­cuffed these land de­fend­ers. The hered­i­tary chiefs and their sup­port­ers are try­ing to safe­guard the land for all of Canada’s chil­dren, Indige­nous or not, from a pro­posed nat­u­ral gas pipe­line on their ter­ri­tory.

At first glance, these two events might seem en­tirely sep­a­rate but they are in­ter­twined.

They are as­pects of the same fight — to be fairly, legally rec­og­nized in a coun­try that spins sto­ries about the sin­cer­ity of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and the im­por­tance of na­tion-to-na­tion agree­ments. Not to men­tion ad­her­ing to in­ter­na­tional law.

As Ot­tawa con­tin­ues to fall short of up­hold­ing Indige­nous rights, the empti­ness of its prom­ises of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion are laid bare.

What does it mean, for in­stance, that Canada signed the United Na­tions Dec­la­ra­tion on the Rights of Indige­nous Peo­ples, which states, “Indige­nous peo­ples shall not be forcibly re­moved from their lands or ter­ri­to­ries”?

What does it mean that Canada signed the Dec­la­ra­tion of the Rights of the Child, whose first prin­ci­ple states that ev­ery child is en­ti­tled to rights with­out “dis­tinc­tion or dis­crim­i­na­tion” on ac­count of race, colour, sex, po­lit­i­cal or other opin­ion?

We are still wait­ing for Canada to live up to its word.

SEAN KIL­PATRICK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Cindy Black­stock, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of First Na­tions Child and Fam­ily Car­ing So­ci­ety, has been chal­leng­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to com­ply with Jor­dan’s Prin­ci­ple.

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