Some First Nations leaders and academics are coming to Cindy Blackstock’s defense after she was criticized by Manitoba chiefs in the wake of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s (CHRT) rejection of a $20 billion child welfare compensation settlement agreement put together by the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Manitoba chief Cornell McLean blamed the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society directly for the compensation delay.
“When we speak about every child matters, in Cindy Blackstock’s eyes, no child matters,” said McLean, the former acting grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
McLean doubled down on his comments the following day in an interview with APTN News.
“I guess the thing is, what’s her motivation behind it? Is she looking for a bigger, better compensation deal for First Nations kids? Because I think right now, the kids have been waiting,” Cornell said. “The young adults and families have been waiting for the last year while this agreement was worked on.
“They want to get their hands on some kind of dollars.”
McLean isn’t the only one upset with Blackstock’s opposition to the FSA – or Final Settlement Agreement.
A number of chiefs at a meeting to elect the next grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs asked how Blackstock and her organization can be taken out of the negotiating equation.
In a summary ruling released Tuesday, the tribunal explained it doesn’t have the “legal basis” to grant amendments requested by the Assembly of First Nations and the federal government, which, as Blackstock explained, would exclude some First Nations children from receiving compensation.
For example, the federal settlement agreement exempts children who weren’t in federally funded child welfare placements.
“When everything was done, and the final settlement order was inked, it turned out that some children – actually quite a few – who were entitled to $40,000 under the tribunal’s order would get zero under the final settlement agreement,” Blackstock told APTN on Tuesday.
Lawyer and Toronto Metropolitan University professor Pam Palmater said the tribunal’s ruling is “exactly what we were hoping for.”
“We were all saying ‘look, no kids should be left behind – that’s just fair,” Palmater said in an interview with Nation to Nation guest host Lindsay Richardson. “I can only assume [McLean] and others haven’t actually read the settlement agreement. Because I can’t imagine any chief in this country would want some kids excluded.
“I mean, that’s counter to the whole purpose of both the human rights tribunal case and the class action.”
On December 31, 2021, the federal government announced it reached a $40-billion settlement with the AFN in two separate class action lawsuits against Canada dealing with child welfare.
The deal came in two parts – $20 billion for compensation and the other $20 billion going to long-term reforms of the system. The CHRT’s ruling only deals with the compensation part of the deal.
It was anticipated the deal would satisfy the tribunal’s 2016 ruling that found Canada guilty of “willfully and recklessly” discriminating against First Nations children involved in the child welfare system on reserve.
In 2019, the tribunal ordered Canada to pay victims, and some extended family members, $40,000 each in compensation.
According to the CHRT, a full ruling on the FSA or Final Settlement Agreement will be released in the coming days.
While the compensation is meant to address the child welfare harms of the past, Palmater says Canada needs to do more to protect children who are currently in care – as well as the children who are yet to be placed.
“Nothing has changed. The discrimination continues – against First Nations kids, their family members, their communities – and the harm keeps happening,” she explained.
“So that’s the thing we have to keep in mind, not only do we need immediate action to stop the discrimination which is destroying some children’s lives, we also need to make sure that the compensation order – which was legally upheld by the federal court – gets paid out immediately to all of those kids in families who won that in court. And also amend the settlement agreement so no child is excluded.”
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With files from Mark Blackburn