Sask. First Nations leaders, advocates welcome $40B child welfare settlement
Half of the money will compensate former children in care, half will fund future reforms
First Nations leaders and advocates in Saskatchewan are welcoming a deal under which the Canadian government will dedicate $40 billion to child welfare, but they say they won't rest until that money is in place.
It's the largest class action settlement in Canadian history. Half of the money is to compensate the thousands of on-reserve children who received inadequate funding while in care, and half is to reform the system to ensure it doesn't happen again.
"I want to believe. I still need to believe that the federal government genuinely wants to do some action for our children and families. I haven't seen that in any of my history. It's always an uphill, slippery battle," said Raymond Shingoose of the Yorkton Tribal Council's Yellow Thunderbird Lodge in southeast Saskatchewan.
Shingoose, a social worker for the past 35 years, worked with Cindy Blackstock and others on this case for years, fighting for the rights of First Nations children in multiple court cases, human rights tribunals and rounds of negotiations.
Shingoose said he can't believe this day is finally here. He said he'll be patient. It will take a lot of time to identify who is eligible for compensation. It's also unclear how the money will be used to reform the system.
"I'm optimistic, but I've got apprehensions. I've been here before. I've heard the promises and I've been disappointed," he said.
Shingoose said he won't rest until First Nations kids get the love and care they deserve.
Dwight Newman, Canada research chair in Indigenous rights in Constitutional and international law at the University of Saskatchewan, said it was good to see funding for both past and future needs.
"Together, they add up to a lot of money, but they also reflect decades and decades of problems, as well as some very serious issues that need to be addressed today," Newman said.
In a news release, Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron called the settlement deal historic.
"Discriminatory funding and other racist decisions have led to a massive over-representation of First Nations children in the system, all at the hand of a federal child welfare system that should've protected them. The root is colonial practices and policies administered directly by Canada," Cameron said.
"The healing journey begins by keeping First Nations children and young people within our own families and communities."