Sudbury

Cindy Blackstock to receive honour from Sudbury's Laurentian University

A champion of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children is about to add another doctorate to her collection — this one from Laurentian University in Sudbury. 

'Gitxsan trailblazer,' champion of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children to be awarded Doctorate of Laws

Cindy Blackstock's background is in social work, and she's now executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society — an organization she co-founded — as well as a professor at McGill University in Montreal. She will be awarded a Doctorate of Laws from Laurentian University in Sudbury on Saturday. (Courtesy of Cindy Blackstock)

Cindy Blackstock is about to add another doctorate to her collection — this one from Laurentian University in Sudbury. 

Despite already holding nearly 20 of the honours from universities across the country, Blackstock, a well-known figure in Canadian human rights, says it's a "great honour to work with people, particularly in northern Ontario, on the children's equity issue."

For more than 25 years, Blackstock has been fighting for the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, taking the federal government to court and before tribunals, demanding what she calls "equity."

"It's really about getting First Nations kids the equitable services that they've been denied since Confederation," she said.

"A lot of people don't understand that the federal government funds public services on reserve, whereas the provinces and territories fund it for all others. And since Confederation, the Canadian government has underfunded every public service on reserve." 

Blackstock's background is in social work, and she's now executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society — an organization she co-founded— as well as a professor at McGill University in Montreal. 

She says the kids she fights for not only receive significantly fewer services than other children in Canada, they're more likely to be taken from their families and put into foster care and their lives are more likely to be defined by what she sees as institutionalized or "structural" racism.

"So just imagine if, you know, in this election, there was a candidate who said,  'Kids who have blue eyes are going to get 30 to 50 per cent less water and 30 to 50 per cent less education funding'... and yet that's exactly what's happening with First Nations kids."

She continued, "This has been so normalized in Canada that I think many people are just starting to awaken to the fact that this is happening."

In a press release, Laurentian University calls Blackstock a "Gitxsan trailblazer," and says "she has won hard-fought human rights tribunal cases which have resulted in hundreds of thousands of services being provided to Indigenous children."

Blackstock says for her, she'll consider her efforts completely successful when "First Nations kids don't have to spend their childhoods fighting for equality, and that non-Indigenous kids never have to say they're sorry again for not having done enough, or not done anything [at all]."

Politicians say they're committed to it, indigenous leaders and activists demand it, and Canadians hope for it. But what exactly do we all mean by reconciliation? And how will we know when — and if — we've achieved it? Michael's guests are: Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society; Cheryl Ward, Executive Director of Indigenous Cultural Safety and Strategy with BC' Provincial Health Authority; and Cowboy Smithx, a filmmaker and founder of the Elk Shadows Performing Arts Clan and the Noirfoot School For Cinematic Art. 31:03

About the Author

Jessica Pope

Journalist

Jessica Pope is a journalist and broadcaster with CBC Sudbury. Most days, you can hear her reading the regional news during the station's award-winning current affairs show Morning North. Reach her at jessica.pope@cbc.ca, or on Twitter @jesspopecbc.