On reserves across Canada, kids are being taken into foster care at a rate eight times greater than the general population -- in part because aboriginal social agencies are getting short-changed by the Crown, advocates say.
That's discrimination and it costs everyone, according to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), who will make their case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal now and through this summer.
If the case results in more dollars going to family services on reserves, it could significantly reduce the numbers of First Nations children going into foster care -- and landing on urban streets as teens. About 40 per cent of street-involved in B.C. spent time in foster care, and more than half are aboriginal.
"Everyone in Canada should be appalled that in this day and age there's still that inequity providing service to a child on a reserve," said Mary Teegee, the only B.C.-based board member on the FNCFCS. She plans to speak at the tribunal, in Ottawa, later this summer.
In B.C., child protection and foster care are administered by the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development. However, for 148 of B.C.'s 198 bands, those services are funded (at least in part) by the federal government, and administered by 22 free-standing aboriginal agencies. On their behalf, the FNCFCS and the AFN have been fighting to have this case heard for five years. The tribunal started Feb. 28.
Teegee didn't have numbers that show exactly what the inequity is, between provincial child protection funding, and what the federal government supplies on reserves. These will emerge during the tribunal, she said.
"There's an absolute cost to society," Teegee, who is also the program director at the Prince George-based Carrier Sekani Family Services agency, said.
"If you look at the reports, they show that a child in care will likely end up incarcerated, not finishing high school, much more likely to have HIV and hepatitis. There's that loss of human potential. I look at some of our youth, and I think of what they could have been if they'd had the opportunity to be raised in their home community… When you take them away from community, that basic human right is taken away from them."
The Aboriginal People's Television Network is streaming the full hearings. This week, the tribunal is hearing from Jonathan Thompson (Assembly of First Nations), Derald Dubois (Touchwood Child & Family Services, Inc., Saskatchewan), and Dr. Nico Trocme (expert witness and principal investigator of the Canadian Incidence Study on Reported Child Abuse and Neglect).
Teegee also noted that dollars for family services is not the only inequity on reserves. Endemic poverty contributes to continuing social problems, she said.
"We need fundamental policy changes to make sure the child stays with the family," Teegee argued.
Pieta Woolley reports on solutions to breaking the link between foster care and youth homelessness for The Tyee Solutions Society. This article was produced by Tyee Solutions Society in collaboration with Tides Canada Initiatives (TCI), with funding from the Vancouver Foundation. TCI and the Vancouver Foundation neither influence nor endorse the particular content of TSS' reporting. Other publications wishing to publish this story or other Tyee Solutions Society-produced articles, please see this website for contacts and information.