Discussing solutions to end inequality for Indigenous children

Indigenous activist Cindy Blackstock talks about the importance of advocacy and equity

Blackstock believes ending such inequalities rests with both the government and society as a whole. (Aidan Grether/The Omega)

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada, said administering interventions that target poverty, addiction and mental health are effective ways to bring about equity for Indigenous communities.

On Jan. 30, the activist visited TRU to discuss: Ending Inequalities for First Nations Children, which was presented on the law floor of the Old Main Building.

During her discussion, Blackstock asserted that there have been a number of problematic approaches that have been unsuccessful in remediating the issue.

Such approaches include the disregard of “structural factors” that negatively impact families, a “focus on reducing children in care instead of increasing family wellness” and the dependence on “tools versus vision.”

“I hear a lot of people talk about the over-representation of Indigenous children in child welfare as if it’s a problem looking for a solution,” she said. “But actually, it is a solution that has never been implemented— that’s the issue.”

Blackstock stated that right now, there is more need for people to “roll up their sleeves” and take action, rather than just provide more research for areas that have already been covered.

“It doesn’t matter what your job is, the most important role that we all share is to look after the kids and to stand up for them when they need us the most,” she said. “When it comes to government, they know better and we have to make sure they do better for kids. That’s our job.”

Blackstock explained that she never signed up to be an activist but the injustices she saw happening in the Indigenous community inspired her to do something.

“What you have to do is say that somebody else around your life or your community or around you, deserve better than what they’re getting,” she said. “I saw these beautiful children getting less for education from the federal government, getting less for early childhood, getting less for child welfare, I saw all of this happening while society often judged them as if they had nothing.”

Blackstock stated that part of the reason this was happening was that people were unaware of all of the inequalities.

She added another thing that bothered her was the fact that many Indigenous children internalized these negative messages.

“They didn’t know [the government] wasn’t giving them lots of money. They just knew life was a lot harder for them and so some of them started to believe that the problem was them. They started to believe that they weren’t smart, that they weren’t good enough,” she said.

Blackstock insisted that when societal inequalities are adequately addressed education is improved and the health and mental wellness of the entire population increases.

“It’s easier to think that the reason that we’re not doing something is because we don’t know because there’s more risk here to take on the government than it is to do a study of the government,” she said. “But we need to be clearer on all the answers that are already there.”

Stating that people often forget just how “exhausting” poverty is, Blackstock emphasized the need to “target” the main reasons that contribute to children and families being at risk.

“We need to hold the feet to the fire, the people who can make change,” she said.

Blackstock also asked her audience to think about whether Indigenous children were solely at risk because of their particular caregiver or if other “societal” issues played a role.