First Nations equality always comes down to 'monumental David vs. Goliath epic struggle'

"There is something seriously wrong with a government fighting the first peoples of this land so they can shortchange them, while wasting money that could be going to help all children," says Steve Bonspiel.

Why is it necessary to 'fight tooth and nail' for equality, asks Steve Bonspiel

Children and youth gathered at Parliament Hill for the annual youth-led Have a Heart Day in 2012. (First Nations Child and Family Caring Society)

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal released its decision in Ottawa January 26, 2016, strongly agreeing with Cindy Blackstock and condemning the Canadian government for continually underfunding aboriginal children on reserve, but there is still a whole lot of work to do.

Now Blackstock, along with other indigenous groups, is pressuring the government to provide some immediate relief. Most notably, the question is where the money Ottawa continues to deny aboriginal children will come from --  and where it should now go.

Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, has not stopped fighting for equality for a decade — in spite of Ottawa's illegal bullying tactics, trying to shut her down at every turn.

Along with the Assembly of First Nations, Blackstock exposed a corrupt mechanism whose explicit goal appeared to be to save a few bucks at the expense of Aboriginal children in foster care.

Thousands more dollars per child are budgeted by Indigenous Affairs on all other children off-reserve.

Meanwhile many First Nations communities operate without proper facilities, including drinking water, sewage and infrastructure. For aboriginal children on reserve that means lower quality of life, and less of a chance at a successful one.

Continued battles for equality

It's interesting to compare this case to the one Sharon McIvor fought for almost three decades.

McIvor, another powerful defender of indigenous rights, has battled for the equality of indigenous women who married non-indigenous men since 1985's Bill C-31 was introduced, a piece of Canadian legislation that essentially gave women like her federal Native status.

In fact, as soon as the bill passed she applied for status and her fight for the rights of others began.

What Bill C-31 did not do, in McIvor's opinion, is go far enough.

It failed to give status to the grandchildren of those unions, and McIvor, a lawyer from BC and a member of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, fought all the way to the Court of Appeal of British Columbia, resulting in Bill C-3, also known as the Gender Equity in Indian Registration Act, in 2009.

Canada fought both of these women tooth and nail, and all they wanted was to be treated equally.

There is something seriously wrong with a government fighting the first peoples of this land so they can short change them, while wasting money that could be going to help all children.

They hoped these brave, selfless women would give up. Ha! Fat chance.

When you look at these two issues, you see how compartmentalized and heavily unbalanced the struggle for equal rights for Aboriginal Peoples is today.

Want to make sure your child is treated fairly? Fight.

Want to ensure you're recognized for who you are? Fight.

Want to be treated equally? You know the answer to that, if you're indigenous.

It always comes down to a fight, a battle, a monumental David versus Goliath epic struggle.

Any government who denies children equality, who controls who is recognized as indigenous in this country — all because of cash — is one that has to be challenged at every turn, even if we only show up to the fight with a slingshot.

Bigger fights to come

There are bigger fights coming up in the future to keep your eyes on.

Health. Education. Land claims.

That last issue has moved so slowly for most nations they have collectively lost hope of getting land back, and have — or will have to settle — for mere dollars and cents.

Unless, you guessed it, they fight.

Prove we owned the land? Why does the government not have to show real proof it legally obtained our land; free of coercion, trickery and outright theft?

Far too often that proof doesn't exist, yet it is left to First Nations with no money to challenge the status quo, the erroneous assumption that land currently held by Canada is held under legal title.

The first two examples, health and education, will have to be brought to human rights, or into the court system, all the way up to the Supreme Court; in order to make real change and bring our standards up to par with the rest of the country.

Think about the irony of that.

The only mechanism for our people to voice our opinions effectively is to use a foreign system with all of the balls in the government's court.

Well, maybe not all of the balls.

About the Author

Steve Bonspiel

Editor, The Eastern Door

Steve Bonspiel is the editor/publisher of Kahnawake Mohawk Territory’s award-winning weekly newspaper The Eastern Door. He has won numerous provincial and national awards for his articles and editorials. Bonspiel is Mohawk, from Kanesatake, currently based in Kahnawake, Que.