Landmark ruling comes as double edge sword for local first nations

By Jessica Lepp
January 27, 2016 - 3:58pm Updated: January 27, 2016 - 5:49pm

KAMLOOPS — First nations in Kamloops are declaring victory this week but at the unfortunate cost of the livelihood of thousands of children.

The President of the Secwepemc Child and Family Services Sandra Seymour says she was very emotional when she heard about the ruling.

“It's a travesty that first nations had to go to a ruling,” says Seymour.

It's a victory on one hand because after 9 years the Humans Rights Tribunal has agreed with the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada that Ottawa discriminated against first nations children on reserves when it comes to welfare.

Seymour says, "the fact we had to go to the tribunal for aboriginal children to be treated equally in Canada. That just puts a black mark on our country.”

The Conservatives were in power when the complaint was launched in 2007 and vehemently opposed it in court. The Kamloops Thompson Cariboo Tory Member of Parliament and critic for Indigenous Affairs says she thought her government and those before were making progress.

Cathy McLeod said her party brought in the ability for the Human Rights legislation to apply on reserves and says she thinks they made some good progress on a whole number of issues.

McLeod says, “instead of worrying about jurisdictional disputes, we had said to Department of Indian Affairs, you pay up front and you worry about jurisdictional issues later. I think government had felt it was making some important and reasonable progress on this issue. Clearly the report indicated differently.”

Seymour says, “the Harper government never made progress. Harper did not want to make progress. The Harper government stood in the way of this.”

Now that the ruling has found Ottawa under funds welfare on reserves by 22% there is cautious optimism change will happen under the Liberal government.

Stephen Knudson is the Executive Director of of the Secwepemc Child and Family Services ad says, “I've heard government commitments that haven't been followed through. I would like to see something tangible. If funding comes through it would improve outcomes for children in care.”

There is hope the 25 year old funding model for aboriginal children will drastically increase so that children living on either side of the Thompson River will be treated equal.

The new Liberal government has promised it will significantly increase funding.

After 9 long years of fighting for equality, local indigenous people are hopeful Ottawa will put the money where their mouth is and improve conditions for first nations children in care.  

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