Aboriginal child welfare ruling could mean better services on reserves

Human rights ruling could have major impact on essential services funding in First Nations communities, says Halifax lawyer.

Halifax lawyer Naiomi Metallic says federal government rates based on 'extremely flawed policy'

A human rights tribunal ruling says the federal government is wrong to provide lower child welfare funding to families on First Nations reserves. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

A Halifax lawyer who is Mi'kmaq has high hopes this week's human rights tribunal ruling will result in better services for First Nations children and others on reserves.

The ruling is "quite a long comprehensive decision," said Naiomi Metallic. She said it found the federal government based its child welfare payments on "an extremely flawed policy," which meant they were lower than provincial rates for children off reserve.

"The government said that it was providing reasonable, comparable funding. However, auditor general reports over several years … noted that the government never really studied that," she told CBC's Information Morning on Wednesday. 

"There were findings of gaps in child welfare. Funding was not on the front-end preventative services. All the money was on the back end, for child apprehension."

She said the policy did not provide for the circumstances of aboriginal children, the impact of residential schools and various other geographical and social factors.

"In Nova Scotia, [aboriginal] children make up four per cent of the population but 23 per cent of the children in care."

Those numbers are consistent in New Brunswick and higher in some other provinces, Metallic said.

"In Manitoba, 75 per cent of children in care [are aboriginal]. That's three times as many children in care right now as there were in residential schools when residential schools were at their height."

This week's decision from the tribunal could extend to federal policies affecting adult welfare, policing and emergency services funding — all essential services, she said.

"I do believe that this government and she [minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs], in particular, are genuine about making some changes. Let's hope that we can all work together to make that happen."