Wednesday March 01, 2017

'I'm in disbelief': Advocate overwhelmed by number of Indigenous children in care

Why it's important for Canadians to listen to survivors of MMIW issue: Karen Hill, Director of Aboriginal Services, Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies 0:46

Listen 24:58

Read story transcript

This special edition of The Current was a public forum held in Toronto looking at how MMIW issues affect children and youth.

​WATCH The Current's five-minute virtual reality documentary about the Highway of Tears. 
 

The statistics on child welfare and education in Indigenous communities are grim.

The government spends $2,000 less per Indigenous student per year than non-Indigenous students.

The number of First Nations children taken from their families is three times the number of children that were taken from their families at the height of the residential school system.

'Child welfare worked hand-in-hand and replaced much of what residential school was intended to do.' - Karen Hill

And in Ontario, Karen Hill, says "Indigenous kids are 168 per cent more likely to be placed in out of home care than non-native kids. It's a huge statistic." 

Hill, the director of Aboriginal services at the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies, says little has changed.

"I'm frustrated, I'm overwhelmed, I'm in disbelief," She tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Hill says there is a "huge overlap" between child welfare systems and how they impact the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

"Child welfare worked hand-in-hand and replaced much of what residential school was intended to do," she says.

"Child welfare, when you talk about that intersection with missing and murdered, it really has victimized women and children in the same way I think residential schools have," says Hill.

'Great damage was done to our people.' - Jonathan Kakegamic 

Jonathan Kakegamic is the principal of the First Nations School in Toronto. He's also a residential school survivor and tells Tremonti that current education barely acknowledges that part of Canada's history. 

"It wasn't even a paragraph in [my son's high school] textbook," he says.

"It was a 'Did you Know?" column. When you think of the residential school era, it lasted five generations," he says.

"Great damage was done to our people." 
 

'We're losing our language every day'

Kakegamic says Indigenous-focused schools like the First Nations School of Toronto, and Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay — where he spent 15 years before he came to Toronto — are crucial to Indigenous youth identity.

"We're losing our language every day," he says.

"We're losing our language every day":Jonathan Kakegamic, principal, First Nations School of Toronto0:56

Karen Hill agrees.

"It infuriates when I hear two official languages," she says.

"It's appalling to me. I don't know why children aren't made to learn ... an Indigenous language."
 

'My job was to ensure that they go home alive' 

Kakegamic remembers his time as vice-principal at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay as one that showed him how rare it was for his students to hear praise. He shared a memory of calling a 10th grade student to his office to acknowledge a good test score.

"And after our discussion she says to me: 'This is the first time that someone said I was good at something,'" he recalls her saying.

"That floored me."

"You got to hug them": Jonathan Kakegamic, principal, First Nations School of Toronto1:01

In his 15 years at Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay, he was more than a teacher, vice-principal, and principal. The school was home to students who came from remote Northern communities to attend, leaving behind their families.

"It's heavy when a parent tells you 'Please look after my child. Please make sure they come home alive,'" he says.

"My job was to ensure that they go home alive." 

"Our kids know who's there for them", he says. "And sometimes it feels like you want to quit but when I see those kids every day, you can't."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This event is part of a series of public forums hosted by The Current across the country to explore the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

The Toronto MMIW public forum was produced by The Current's Josh Bloch, Pacinthe Mattar, Ashley Mak and Kathleen Goldhar.