How a teddy bear received an honorary degree and why his work for Indigenous children still isn't done
Ten years after Jordan's Principle was adopted, Indigenous children are still being harmed, advocates say
For more than 10 years now, a teddy bear from Prince George, B.C., has been a symbol of the need to focus on children rather than politics, when it comes to looking after Indigenous youth in Canada.
And according to child welfare advocates, Spirit Bear's work is far from done.
The small white teddy bear was gifted to Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada in 2007.
At the time, she was launching a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal complaint claiming the federal government discriminates against children on reserves by failing to provide the same level of child welfare and health services that exist elsewhere in the country.
At the centre of the case was Jordan River Anderson, who died in 2005 while federal and provincial governments argued over who would pay for his home care.
The case led to the adoption of a motion in support of Jordan's Principle in the House of Commons on Dec. 12, 2007. Jordan's Principle argues that children in need of care should have their bills paid for by whichever government receives the request first, and the details of who is responsible can be worked out later.
Spirt Bear attended every one of the hearings after being given to Blackstock by Mary Teegee of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Services in Prince George.
"It represented everything we were trying to do, fighting for the rights of children," Teegee said.
"I thought we need something in the hearing room to remind us all who this is about — it's about real children and their families," she explained.
Over time, Spirit Bear became more and more recognizable as different groups started giving him clothes and other adornments for his work.
He even received an "Honorary Bearister" certificate from Osgoode Hall Law School, the first known instance of a stuffed animal receiving a degree in Canada.
"Our little bear has started developing a reputation all his own," Teegee said.
Spirit Bear is still working.
This month, he's the star of a new picture book aimed at introducing children to the principles of reconciliation in Canada.
He's also the symbol of Blackstock's new project: the "Spirit Bear Plan."
YAY! The Chiefs in Assembly <a href="https://twitter.com/AFN_Updates?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@AFN_Updates</a> passed my Spirit Bear Plan! Thanks to Chief <a href="https://twitter.com/DukePeltier?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DukePeltier</a> and Chief Melvin Hardy for moving and seconding my motion and huge thanks to all who supported it! <a href="https://t.co/0Nl5KuFpJb">pic.twitter.com/0Nl5KuFpJb</a>—@SpiritBear
The plan is aimed at addressing the problems and inequities within the child welfare system that continue to persist, 10 years after Jordan's Principle was adopted.
Among them: a disproportionate number of Indigenous children in care in Canada, on-reserve suicides among young people without access to supports and the underfunding of on-reserve educational and medical services.
Teegee is happy to see the teddy bear she gave to Blackstock a decade ago still working on behalf of children who need it most.
"Reconciliation is more than just words, it's actions," she said.
"At the end of the day, it's about the children."