Indigenous family receives wheelchair accessible house after chief applies for access to Jordan's Principle

Tuesday marks 10 years since the House of Commons passed the resolution named after Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation child Jordan River Anderson. Families say it's helpful but advocates say it could be better.

Nearly 30,000 children helped under Jordan's Principle

Brenda Littlecrow with her son, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, will move back to Whitecap Dakota First Nation thanks to funding from Jordan's Principle. (Submitted by Brenda Littlecrow)

The implementation of Jordan's Principle has changed the lives of thousands of families in Canada. Saskatchewan's Brenda Littlecrow is beginning to realize what that's like.  

Her son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at five months old.

He was put on medication for seizures, which Littlecrow said by age one often lasted for an hour or more.

"The doctors were concerned he would sustain additional brain damage to what he already sustained during pregnancy," she said.

Tuesday marks 10 years since the House of Commons passed the resolution named after Norway House Cree Nation child Jordan River Anderson. He died in 2005 amidst a disagreement between the provincial government of Manitoba and the federal government about which would pay for the five-year old's health care.  

Jordan's Principle stipulates that government services available to all other children must also be provided to First Nations children. If a dispute arises between different levels of government over who should take on the costs, the government department contacted first should pay and can seek reimbursement after.
Brenda Littlecrow's son, pictured, has had hour-long seizures since he was an infant. (Brenda Littlecrow)

The Littlecrow family was living on Whitecap Dakota First Nation, about 24 kilometres south of Saskatoon at the time of his diagnosis.There, medical care was not readily available.

"It was taking emergency services over an hour sometimes just to get to us and my son would be seizing the entire time," Littlecrow said.

The family was forced to move to Saskatoon so Littlecrow's son could receive the care he needed.

That's when Littlecrow found out about Jordan's Principle and began researching qualifications.

Whitecap Chief Darcy Bear applied for access to Jordan's Principle on behalf of Littlecrow's son and other children on the First Nation.

Because of this, Littlecrow found out her family would be getting a wheelchair accessible house on Whitecap that will be better equipped to accommodate his needs.
Whitecap Chief Darcy Bear applied for access to Jordan’s Principle on behalf of Littlecrow’s son and other children on the First Nation. (CBC News)

The home will be outfitted with a lift system to help Littlecrow with her son, whom she said is now over 50 pounds and spends much of his time in his wheelchair.

Littlecrow was also told emergency services are going to improve in the area.

She said it shows the importance of asking questions and seeking information.

"Nothing is ridiculous or stupid when it comes to accessing better services and supports for our children," Littlecrow said.

Advocate says federal government must comply

Cindy Blackstock, director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, said since the principle was implemented, nearly 30,000 services have been provided to children all over the country in Jordan's name. Despite this, she said there are still a lot of issues with it.

"We're still concerned about the lack of full compliance," Blackstock said. "We feel that there are many other children out there who are in need of help."
Advocates say it's high time the federal and provincial governments address the inequalities facing First Nations children in health care once and for all. 0:40

Blackstock said she remembers when the principle was announced with Anderson's father in attendance.

"He saw all the people standing there and hearing his son's name in that House of Parliament but he leaned over and said, 'Don't let the good being done in my son's name today just be a moral victory.'"

Ten years later, Blackstock said there has been four legal orders against Canada for non-compliance of the principle. She said when it was passed, the federal government crafted the definition so narrowly that no child ever qualified.

We feel that there are many other children out there who are in need of help.- Cindy  Blackstock , director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society

"There were children who were actually dying waiting for services," she said. "Yet, Canada's official position was there were no Jordan's Principle cases."

The Canadian human rights tribunal ruled in 2016 that Canada's failure to implement Jordan's Principle was racial discrimination and ordered it to fully implemented.

It links the non-compliance of the principle to the preventable death of two girls on Wapekeka First Nation. The community had asked for mental health services and been denied. The 12-year-olds both died by suicide.

Recently, Blackstock said Health Canada has been making significant gains in implementing the principle.

"These families will call us and they're literally crying because they're so grateful that their child has got the help that they needed," she said. "These are services they should've gotten all along the way but it's good to see that progress."

If a First Nations child is not receiving the services and supports they need, Blackstone said families are encouraged to contact the federal government.

About the Author

Alex Soloducha is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan.

With files from The Afternoon Edition, Penny Smoke