Saskatchewan chiefs vindicated following child-welfare tribunal ruling

Saskatoon Tribal Council chief Felix Thomas is feeling vindicated by the Human Rights Tribunal's recent decision regarding Ottawa's funding models for First Nations child welfare agencies. The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations is calling for action.

Chief Felix Thomas hopes federal, provincial governments will work with child welfare agencies

Tribal chief Felix Thomas of Saskatoon Tribal Council (James Hopkin/CBC)

Saskatchewan chiefs are supporting a ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Saskatoon Tribal Council chief Felix Thomas says he is feeling vindicated by a ruling from the tribunal, which states that the federal government has failed to provide the same level of child welfare services that exist elsewhere to First Nations children on reserves. 

"It doesn't give us any extra money," said Thomas. "It gives us the same money as every child that's in the system now."

A complaint against Ottawa was filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2007 by Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations. The federal government spent $5.3 million on multiple attempts at having the case thrown out. 

Thomas said he is disheartened that the federal government spent so much time and money fighting both the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations.

"We wasted a decade, but also we probably wasted a decade of a child's life and lost opportunities. So I feel our children have been vindicated. But it didn't have to come to this," said Thomas.

The tribal chief said he now hopes for cooperation between First Nations and all levels of government in order to find a solution for child welfare agencies on reserve. 

"How are they going to respond to this? aAow are they going to respond to the needs of First Nations children? We hope that the province also responds positively and that they will work with us in making sure that every child has the same quality of life and advantages growing up," he said.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations first vice chief Kimberly Jonathan said the ruling means it is time for the federal government to take decisive action. 

FSIN first vice Chief Kimberly Jonathan says the ruling means it is time for action. (CBC)
"We want to see real change for our First Nations children both on reserve and off reserve. Prevention, resources and adequate funding is only the beginning," Jonathan said in a statement.

"We can see from the Tribunal's decision that there is much more work that needs to be done. With the new funding and hopefully new relationships that will be forged from this decision we are looking forward to implementing some innovative and culturally based approaches in Saskatchewan. This is a great opportunity for the Liberal government and the Province of Saskatchewan to truly implement the United Nations Declaration of Rights on Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation of Commission Calls for Action in not only its legislation but in its everyday practices and policies."

The FSIN represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.