The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) announced Monday that they’ve agreed to a $23 billion settlement to compensate survivors of the government run child welfare system.
“The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal [CHRT] has been clear there was more work to do to satisfy its orders to ensure Canada provided proper compensation and other remedies for the racial discrimination imposed on First Nations by Canada,” said AFN Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse in a statement.
“I firmly believe we have reached the best possible agreement to compensate our children and families harmed by Canada’s discrimination.”
The deal agreed upon is worth $3 billion more than the original one proposed by the federal government and the AFN in 2022.
The negotiations for compensation started after a 2016 ruling where the CHRT found that Canada discriminated against First Nations children in the provinces and Yukon because it paid less for child welfare services on-reserve than for services offered to children off-reserve.
It ordered that the federal government pay each child and parent or caregiver, $40,000 – the maximum award allowed under the tribunal’s powers.
On Jan. 1, 2022, Canada made an announcement that it signed a massive $40 billion deal with the Assembly of First Nations called the Final Settlement Agreement, or FSA, to settle two class action lawsuits dealing with First Nations child welfare and Jordan’s Principle. Of that money, $20 billion would go towards compensation.
But on Oct. 25, 2022, the tribunal, which had to approve it, put the compensation part of the deal on hold saying the deal struck would leave some parties out of the agreement.
“Denying entitlements once recognized in orders is an unfair and unjust outcome that the Tribunal cannot endorse,” said tribunal panel members Sophie Marchildon and Edward Lustig in the 2022 ruling. “The Tribunal decisions provide compensation for children removed from their homes, families and communities as a result of the FNCFS (First Nations Child and Family Services) Program’s discrimination.
“The FSA narrows it into removed children who were also placed in ISC (Indigenous Services Canada) funded care.”
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the FNCFCS, argued at the tribunal that the deal needed to be stopped. She said that too many children would be left out including survivors who were sent to a home not paid for by the federal government.
Blackstock, along with the AFN, was the original complainant in the case against the federal government when it was filed in 2007.
With $20 billion on the line, the AFN targeted her for arguing against it.
But chiefs at a special chiefs assembly in Ottawa in 2022, ordered the AFN to sit down with Blackstock and renegotiate.
“The First Nations-in-Assembly gave us clear direction last year that they want to be involved in this process. We are honouring that direction, and I look forward to bringing the revised Final Settlement Agreement to Chiefs at this week’s Special Chiefs Assembly for their approval,” said Woodhouse.
According to the AFN, 300,000 First Nations children, youth and families will be eligible for payment – including children who were placed outside of federal government homes.
“This compensation recognizes the serious harms First Nations, children, youth, and families suffered including unnecessary family separations and the denial of life saving and life wellness services,” said Blackstock in the joint statement with the AFN.
“To truly honour them and the Residential School and 60’s scoop survivors we must ensure this is the last generation of First Nations children who are hurt by the Government of Canada. That work continues and they are our inspiration to get it right.”
The statement said that First Nations leaders, the tribunal and Federal Court must approve the agreement before compensation is issued.
More to come.