How much longer?
That is the question Ruth Gladstone-Davies wants answered one month after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the federal government is failing First Nations children who live on reserve and in the Yukon by providing them less service than other children.
Welcomed by the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada as a big win for kids, the Jan. 26 decision came nearly a decade after the case was launched — the Harper government tried eight times to dismiss it on procedural grounds and was found guilty of withholding evidence.
But the decision is not the first “landmark ruling” Gladstone-Davies has seen.
A social development coordinator with the Skidegate Band Council, Gladstone-Davies has been involved in child and family services for many years, and was part of the group that helped found Haida Child and Family Services, which has served Haida and non-Haida families since 2006.
“Since our babies have been living in crisis situations for the past 30 or so decades, I have to say — ‘Great! More awareness!’ — with faint and feigned enthusiasm,” she wrote in an email to the Observer.
Gladstone-Davies noted that, among other “landmarks,” the ruling comes 66 years after the federal government handed jurisdiction over First Nations children to the provinces, and 46 years after First Nations started saying what was wrong with that.
It also follows a 4,000-page report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples that recommended a 20-year plan back in 1996, and the eight-year Truth and Reconciliation Commission that finished this spring.
At the heart of the ruling was the failure by the federal and provincial governments to enact Jordan’s Principle.
The 2007 rule, passed unanimously in the House of Commons, was supposed to bring fair treatment to children living on reserves by preventing jurisdictional disputes from getting in the way of child services.
The principle was named for Jordan River Anderson, a First Nations boy born with a rare muscular disorder who died in hospital while the federal and Manitoba governments argued over who should cover the cost of his home care. He never saw his family home.
But since Jordan’s Principle was adopted, many other First Nations families have run into similar roadblocks, such as dental exams, school services or medical equipment that doesn’t come, or comes too late because they live on reserve.
In its ruling, the tribunal found the federal government defined Jordan’s Principle so narrowly it could hardly be applied.
It is that sort of doublespeak that has left Gladstone-Davies wary of celebrating the tribunal’s decision just yet.
“Truthfully, I am wondering — how long do we still wait and watch our children perish while the feds and provinces scramble in jurisdictional confusion, united only on one level to keep our input at arm’s length and the rest of the country in a state of historical cultural incompetence by riding the racial divide?” she wrote.
“The truth of our history post-contact is in published material, millions of pages now available,” she added.
“Our answers have not changed… and that’s exactly what they are: answers.”