OTTAWA – “Many Indigenous children do not have the basic necessities of life,” said Dr. Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the Caring Society. “Their communities lack access to clean water or safe, affordable housing. And some are educated in deplorable conditions.” According to a report released today in Ottawa, ” Indigenous children face neglect, abuse and sometimes death as a result of Canada’s failure to live up to its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
That is one of the findings in a joint report by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (Caring Society) and KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives (KAIROS) in their submission to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The report, entitled Honouring the Children was released in advance of the UNCRC’s upcoming review of how well Canada is living up to the UN Convention. When it comes to Indigenous children, Canada deserves a failing grade the report claims. The report says some First Nations schools are contaminated by black mould and not properly heated. One school was closed due to an infestation of snakes. Another is closed an average of 22 days each year due to a lack of drinking water.
“These shocking conditions are due to historic and ongoing policies and practices that contradict Indigenous holistic traditions and fail to uphold Indigenous peoples’ rights,” said Ed Bianchi, KAIROS’ Indigenous Rights Program Coordinator.
Former Senator the Honourable Landon Pearson, a longtime advocate on the rights of the child and current Caring Society board member, said: “These policies discriminate against First Nations, Inuit and Metis families and children and touch on all aspects of an Indigenous child’s life. Children are affected by violence against Indigenous women and unfair and unjust land rights negotiations.”
Drawing on official federal government documents, and illustrated with evocative words and images of and by Indigenous and non-Indigenous children, the report describes how current federal policies and practices are compounding historic injustices.
“We would like to ask the federal government why there are no schools in many of our communities and why so many of our schools are in such poor conditions,” said Caitlin Tolley, an Indigenous youth leader and First Nation Algonquin from the community of Kitigan-Zibi adjacent to Maniwaki, Quebec. “We want to know why the level of funding we receive for education is less compared to communities in other parts of Canada.”
Vernie Yocogan-Diano, an Indigenous leader and human rights activist from the Cordillera region of the Philippines who is in Canada as part of KAIROS’ Living Courage Tour, which brings women from overseas conflict zones together with Indigenous and migrant women in Canada , said that young people in the Philippines face similar conditions and also reprisals if they speak out.
“What is worse is when students and youth try to assert their rights for better quality education they are targeted and become victims of political repression, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, she said.
Honouring the Children elaborates on Shannen’s Dream campaign for “safe, comfy and equitable schools” inspired by 13 year old Shannen Koostachin who travelled to Ottawa to ask then Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl for a new school in Attawapiskat First Nation. Students have been attending school in fire trap, mice infested, freezing, rundown portables after their original school was condemned because the land it’s built on is contaminated by 50,000 litres of diesel fuel.
The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada invites First Nations young people (ages 15–24) to apply for an opportunity to go to the United
Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. For more information, click here. The deadline is November 1 2011 to apply.