A legal battle of more than 14 years has ended in Canada. This Tuesday, federal authorities announced an agreement reached with indigenous organizations. Ottawa will disburse some 40 billion Canadian dollars (31 billion US dollars) in compensation and support for initiatives to protect these groups. The negotiations were based on a decision of the Canadian Court of Human Rights: the federal government discriminated against indigenous children by underfunding child and family services for 30 years on the reserves, thereby causing thousands of these children to go to stay in shelters or live with host families.
“No compensation can compensate for the trauma suffered, but this agreement recognizes the harm and pain caused to surviving children and their families by discrimination in funding,” stated Patty Hadju, Minister of Indigenous Services. This Tuesday it was announced that the parties reached an agreement on December 31, the deadline imposed by the judge to reach a friendly settlement. However, Marc Miller, Minister of Relations between the Crown and Indigenous Groups, had advanced on December 13 that an adjustment in the budget already contemplated an amount equal to that announced. “It has been 30 years of failure and discrimination against indigenous children,” Miller acknowledged that day.
Half of the money will be earmarked for compensation, both to the affected minors and their parents, in a period between April 1, 1991 and March 31, 2022. At least 54,000 children have suffered the impacts of this financing insufficient. The rest of the amount will be used to improve different elements of the child protection system in the communities. Indigenous Canadians under 15 years of age represent 8% of the total of this age group in the country. However, they occupy more than half of the spaces in the system of shelters and foster families.
In February 2007, the Assembly of First Nations of Canada (which brings together more than 600 leaders of indigenous communities) and the Society for the Support of Children and Families of Indigenous Groups filed a lawsuit against the federal government in the Canadian Court. of Human Rights for the insufficient financing of the programs, an example for them of discrimination. This judicial institution agreed with the plaintiffs in 2016, authorizing negotiations to reach an agreement in 2019. Ottawa made use of different appeals. However, a judge again asked the Canadian government for payment of the amounts. After appealing again, the federal authorities promised to reach an agreement no later than December 31, a date established by the court.
This Tuesday, the Assembly of First Nations of Canada reacted through Cindy Woodhouse, head of the indigenous communities of the province of Manitoba and member of the negotiating team of this agreement. “We have waited for this agreement for a long time. The country’s indigenous groups have worked very hard to achieve this, ”stated Woodhouse. Minister Miller commented that, although the damages suffered cannot be reversed, “historical injustices require historical reparations.”
The agreement reached once again reflects the set of adverse conditions for a significant number of indigenous Canadians. Misguided policies on the part of Ottawa and actions fueled by discrimination have had a profound impact on indigenous communities for decades. The discovery last year of more than 1,200 unmarked graves on the grounds of four former boarding schools for indigenous children showed this grim face of Canada like never before. A network of 139 centers of this type operated in the North American country between 1883 and 1996 to assimilate these minors by force. Its funding came from the federal government, while its administration was run by religious groups. Neglect, sexual violence, physical punishment, and racism were common within its walls. Some experts estimate that more than 6,000 children died in these institutions.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.