Ten First Nations intend to sue the Canadian government, citing policies in place in the First Nations child welfare system that have led to the loss of language, culture and tradition in affected children.
The proposed class action lawsuit was filed in the Federal Court on Jan. 31, 2023, with the lead plaintiff being David Crate, Chief of Fisher River Cree Nation near Winnipeg. Along with Fisher River, First Nations chiefs from Poplar River, Horse Lake, Swan River, Whitefish Lake, Sucker Creek, and Dene Thá, along with Sioux Valley Dakota Nation and Manto Sipi Cree Nation, are all named plaintiffs in the suit.
The untested lawsuit means no court has decided whether it is legal. The case must also be certified by a judge, meaning the claim must be confirmed as authentic and abiding by the law as officially determined by a judge.
The ten plaintiffs seek monetary and non-monetary damages for the systematic separation of “First Nations children from their families, lands, and communities and by causing the increasing gross overrepresentation of First Nations children in state care,” stated the lawsuit.
According to data obtained in the 2021 census, 53.8% of children in foster care are Indigenous but only make up 7.7% of the child population in Canada. Additionally, 38% of Indigenous children in Canada live in poverty compared to 7% of non-Indigenous children.
The number of First Nations kids in state custody today is nearly three times the number of individuals in residential schools at their peak in the 1940s. Residential schools were boarding schools for Indigenous individuals intending to isolate and assimilate them into Canadian society and culture.
Subsequent childcare policies from the 50s to the 80s that followed the residential school system allowed officials to take Indigenous children from their families to be adopted by white families in a period called the Sixties Scoop.
Many in this community think the excess of Indigenous children in foster care results from intergenerational trauma passed on from the legacy of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.
In 1991, the First Nations Child and Family Services program (FNCFS) was created to fund “prevention and protection services to support the safety and well-being of First Nations children and families living on reserves,” according to the government portal for the program.
In 2016, a human rights tribunal ruled that the FNCFS program was underfunded, and doing so counted as systemic racial discrimination. 2019 saw the tribunal order monetary compensation of $40,000 to be paid to all victims negatively affected by the FNCFS program.
In January 2022, the federal government announced plans to provide a further $20 billion in compensation and $20 billion to reform the FNCFS program over five years. This pledged amount has yet to be finalized or approved by the tribunal or the courts as of March 2023.
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