Today the Winnepeg Free Press reported that “Child rights’ advocates are hoping to shame the federal government into improving the treatment of aboriginal children.The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the ecumenical group KAIROS are asking the United Nations to ensure that Ottawa gives the same services to aboriginal children as it does to other Canadians.

In a report prepared for the United Nations committee on the rights of the child, the groups say government funding for health, education and child welfare is much lower on reserves than off.

As a result, they say native kids often lack the basic necessities of life.

They point out that Canada signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and its performance is under review right now.

When I served on the Lieutenant Governor’s Steering Committee on Aboriginal literacy, I saw first hand the problems faced by Canada’s First Nations children. One of the first things I learned was that money was only a part of the problem. The fact that funding lags behind educational and social welfare funding for children in the rest of the province is a crime that must be addressed but in order for those dollars to be targeted and used accountably, there has to be an untangling of bureaucratic snarls and more transparency.

One of the truths that I came to understand while meeting with representatives of band councils while developing the first summer literacy day camps, and spending last season working with Equay-wuk (Women’s Circle) is that liberal white guilt about children’s welfare in First Nations colludes with right-wing priorities to result in a “do-nothing” outcome. Well-meaning child welfare advocates too often allow themselves to be silenced because they feel that as white people, they cannot address First Nations issues, even when they know that education or child welfare dollars are not being used effectively in a community. There is not one set of problems with children’s welfare in First Nations communities. Because these communities are self-governing, the picture differs from community from community and it is important for decision-makers and social justice advocates to understand that it is not a “one-size fits all” solution. It is messy and complex and if we care about justice for these children we have to be prepared to listen and also be prepared to speak out.

Sometimes it takes more than a village to raise a child when that village is failing the child. Sometimes it takes a nation to care and not to be silenced because of some ancient mistakes made by some of our ancestors.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers

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