Canada must stop using 'racial discrimination as fiscal restraint,' Cindy Blackstock says

The gap is growing between the amount of money First Nations children receive for basic services compared to other Canadians, according to documents filed at an inquest into First Nations student deaths.

Liberal spending not enough to close First Nations funding gap, children's rights advocate says

Funding disparities lead First Nations kids to believe that 'they must not be smart enough, that they may not be good enough,' says Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. (CBC)

The gap is growing between the amount of money First Nations children receive for basic services compared to other Canadians, according to documents filed at an inquest into First Nations student deaths in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Spending information from the Department of Indigenous Affairs shows the impact of the two-per-cent cap on annual increases to First Nations budgets, put in place in 1996 by the previous Liberal government.

The document compares and tracks funding for First Nations people versus other Canadians on a per-person and inflation-adjusted basis dating back to 1994. It shows that funding for First Nations dropped by almost 30 per cent during that time, while funding for other Canadians rose during the same period.

"If we allow things to continue as they are, then we as a people are accepting racial discrimination against children as a fiscal restraint measure," said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

Justin Trudeau said his government will lift the two-per-cent cap on funding, but it's not clear when First Nations budgets will be adjusted.

"We've now got $8.4 billion in the platform that, together with your chief and grand chief, we're going to make sure how to do this fairly and make sure people are properly housed and boil water advisories are stopped," Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said April 15 at a community meeting in Neskantaga First Nation.

Neskantaga, like dozens of other First Nations in northern Ontario, does not have safe tap water, houses are crumbling and overcrowded, and there is no high school, so children as young as 13 must leave home for an education.

Blackstock said the money promised by the Liberals over five years won't be nearly enough to bridge the funding gap, particularly for services to First Nations children who she says take a painful message from government spending policy.

"They codify these inequalities as personal deficits, that they must not be smart enough, that they must not be good enough and that's the real damage of this type of discrimination and these types of inequalities in federal funding," she said.

The children's rights advocate said the feelings of inferiority are fuelling the high suicide rates among Indigenous youth and she believes Canadians can be convinced to spend more on their well-being.

"I don't think Canadians want to be known as a group that is prepared to finance things like arenas and highways by racially discriminating against kids," Blackstock said, adding that every dollar a government spends on a child saves $20 "down the line."

About the Author

Jody Porter

Reporter

Jody Porter began her career at CBC News in 2000. She is the recipient of a Debwewin Citation from the Anishinabek Nation for excellence in reporting on First Nations issues and a Massey College Clarkson Laureate in recognition of public service.