Indigenous Ottawans hopeful after child welfare ruling
'Now Canada as a whole can see that this is the truth. I think that's very important.'
People in Ottawa's indigenous community are hopeful and relieved after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal's ruling that the federal government discriminates against children living in First Nations.
According to the landmark decision, children living on reserve don't receive the same funding and supports as children who live elsewhere in Canada.
Josh Lewis, an outreach worker at the Shawenjeagamik Aboriginal Drop-In Centre on Rideau Street, believes this is an opportunity for all Canadians to understand the child welfare gap between First Nations and other communities.
"Obviously the people on reserve know that that happened, because they experienced it," he said. "But now Canada as a whole can see that this is the truth. I think that's very important."
"I hope it means that the whole system kind of appreciates them more, and that they're respected, and they can grow up proud," he added.
The ruling comes nearly a decade after Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada filed an initial human rights complaint against the federal government in 2007.
'Victory for children'
Speaking at a press conference in Ottawa, Blackstock called the decision a "victory for children".
Federal Indigenous Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett promised to work with Indigenous leaders to come up with solutions to improve child welfare services on-reserve.
Verna McGregor from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, about 140 kilometres north of Ottawa, hopes the next steps to improve on-reserve child welfare include a strong cultural component to raise awareness throughout the entire Canadian child welfare system.
"It's good that they acknowledged the human rights of the funding of kids on and off reserve that are not in parity," she said. "But if you aren't looking at cultural differences and understanding, how do you address the whole issue of racism and bias?"
She's hopeful this decision will lead to a better future for First Nations children in Canada, and Lewis agrees.
"They don't have to grow up on reserve thinking their life is terrible," he said. "Maybe the school systems will become better on the reserve. And I'm hoping that my future generations just become proud."