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      Canada Separates Children and Youth Too!

      By Tamara Hansen

      It seemed like one day I woke up and every news channel, newspaper, and radio station was zeroed in on the appalling situation in the United States with migrant children being imprisoned in cages and separated from their parents. There was a strong and visceral reaction from people around the world against this cruel and inhuman treatment of children and infants. Especially when the Trump administration started justifying their gross policies, as if arriving in the United States in a manner deemed illegal, means you lose all your human rights.

      To get a full picture of the government of Canada’s lack of humanity when it comes to children and youth, one need look no further than its treatment of the Indigenous peoples of these lands.

      An important current example is the “Justice for Our Stolen Children” camp in Saskatchewan. Have you heard of it? Surprisingly few outside of the province have. While some mainstream media have been following the camp, it has not become an issue in Canada, the way that Trump’s anti-migrant policies have. I am writing this article just before Canada’s 151st birthday, to remind us of the importance of not only being consistently outraged by Trump but also to understand and take action against what is happening in Canada.

      “Justice for Our Stolen Children” camp

      A protest camp sprung up on the legislature building lawns in Saskatchewan in February 2018, called the “Justice for our Stolen Children” camp. It was organized in response to the “not guilty” verdicts against those accused of killing two Indigenous youth, Colten Boushie (Cree) and Tina Fontaine (Anishinaabe). These “not guilty” verdicts against two non-Indigenous perpetrators were a gross miscarriage of justice. At the same time, these “not guilty” verdicts did not come as a surprise to many Indigenous people who see that time, and time again Canada’s justice system is not designed to provide justice for their communities.

      Organizers told the CBC, “the camp is a call for justice for Indigenous children who have been lost to protective services, the justice system and violence.” Many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people have come together to tend the sacred fire at the camp. Many Indigenous people interviewed at the camp have lost their children under suspicious circumstances that they feel were not properly investigated by authorities.

      On June 18, while the camp had been in place for 111 days, police raided the camp and arrested several activists. One of the main reasons for attacking the camp? Clearing the way for upcoming “Canada Day Celebrations”. Nevertheless, activists would not surrender, and the camp was set up again only a short while later. They prepared and then held what they dubbed a “pre-Canada” celebration. Artists, musicians and community members celebrated the legacy of Indigenous peoples before the establishment of the Canadian state.

      Only days before Canada Day Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe spoke with reporters, urging the police to bring down the camp once again. He said, “It isn’t lost on me that we are, in the southern part of the province here on Treaty 4 territory. But it also isn’t lost on me that we have laws here in the park so that it is available for everyone’s enjoyment. [...] I would encourage all to ensure we are in that park on Canada Day.” Of course, Mr. Moe did not address the fact that the park around the legislature is huge, with an abundance of space for multiple activities on the grounds. He also speaks as if activists and Indigenous people are not included in “everyone.”

      A meeting between government representatives and the “Justice for our Stolen Children” camp has been organized for July 2, it is because of this planned meeting that Mr. Moe believes activists should wrap up their camp, but why is a Canada Day celebration more important to him than Indigenous youth and their families?

      As Soolee Papequash of the Piapot First Nation told the CBC, she got involved in the camp because of her son Brandon. He seemingly died of an accidental overdose almost three years ago, but Papequash told the CBC many things don’t add up. She has been at the camp seeking justice, but also because it has built a sense of caring and community. That said, the camp has also faced racist attacks, the CBC reports, “[Papequash] remembered how a passerby yelled in the direction of the camp: “go home and look after your children.” “I would Ð but he’s dead. I can’t go home and look after him,” she said.”

      ' The thoughts she shared to CBC about the camp being dismantled were, “I don’t want to be traded in for a beer garden. […] I want answers.”

      Indigenous Youth in Care: a system in crisis or a system designed to fail?

      In a Toronto Star article titled, “Separating children from their parents, the Canadian way,” journalist Gillian Steward connects the injustice happening in the U.S. against migrant families to Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples. Steward writes, “in 2016 a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the Canadian government was discriminating against Indigenous children because on-reserve communities are not afforded the same level of resources for their families as other communities. As a consequence, more Indigenous children are likely to end up separated from their families in foster care, group homes, or detention facilities than non-Indigenous children. In Manitoba, for example, 10,000 of the 11,000 children in care are Indigenous. In Alberta about 70 percent of children in foster care are Indigenous.”

      In fact, there are over 165,000 Indigenous youth and children who have been affected by the government’s discrimination. The person who helped to expose this injustice was Cindy Blackstock, a Gitxsan professor and the President of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. She took the previous Conservative government of Canada to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, fighting for over ten years to bring attention to the government’s unequal funding for on and off reserve child welfare services. Over two years ago, she won her case. Unfortunately, the Trudeau Liberal government has yet to budget the money necessary to rectify this ongoing inequality. This amounts to discrimination by the government against 165,000 children based solely on their race.

      According to a Chatelaine Magazine article, “The Stunning Number of First Nations Kids in Foster Care Ð And the Activists Fighting Back” the full statistics are even more revealing. They explain, “in 2016, First Nations, Metis and Inuit youth made up 52 percent of foster children younger than 14 in Canada, despite representing just eight percent of that age group, according to Statistics Canada. That’s four points higher than in 2011, reflecting the fact that more Indigenous children have been entering foster care than leaving it. […] These national statistics, however, only account for children living in private households. If they included those who live in group homes, shelters or mental health facilities, say advocates, the total would be far higher.”

      Some have begun to call our current period “the Millennial scoop,” which connects what is happening today to what happened in the 1960s during a period known as the “60s scoop”, which I will further explain. Using the term “Millennial scoop,” also forces us to think of this current era as a system designed to divide and fail Indigenous communities, rather than just a system that is full of well-intentioned mistakes.

      Indigenous youth throughout the history of Canada

      As many in Canada are celebrating the country’s 151st birthday, it is worth reflecting on what the government of Canada has done to Indigenous youth since its very inception.

      The government of the Dominion of Canada lead by Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald began instituting its policy of separating Indigenous children and youth from their families in the 1880s, through its Indian Residential School system. In 1920, under the Indian Act (Canada’s legal policy towards Indigenous people, which has been modified numerous times since 1867, but remains the problematic and racist law of Canada today), every Indigenous child in Canada was forced to attend a residential school. This resulted in thousands of Indigenous children being ripped away from their parents and communities by the government of Canada. The final residential school to close was the Gordon Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan in 1996.

      According to CBC news, 1931 is considered the peak of the residential school system, when about 80 schools were open across Canada. From the 1880s to 1996, there were a total of 130 residentials schools throughout Canada. CBC reports, “In all, about 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools.”

      Children and youth were placed in residential schools, run jointly by the government and various denominations of the Christian church. The stated goal of these schools was “to kill the Indian in the child,” in other words these schools were designed to perpetrate genocide against Indigenous nations.

      In 1951, the government of Canada made changes to the Indian Act which allowed for the eventual closure of the residential schools. However, it was a four-decade-long process. In 1955, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “The federal government expanded the system of residential schools and hostels to Inuit in the far north.” Additionally, while the schools were closing in some areas, the government came up with new ways to push their racist assimilation agenda. Throughout the 1960s, was the period I mentioned before of the “60s scoop” when Indigenous children were taken from their families by government social workers and placed in mostly nonIndigenous foster or adoption homes.

      Fighting for a Better Future

      jaye simpson, a 23-year-old university student, poet and artist lived through the foster system. Explaining to the CBC, “The foster care system is working the way it’s designed: as a machine to destroy Indigeneity.” While I am sure many people in Canada could debate this topic for hours, the historical and present situation in Canada for Indigenous children and youth demonstrates that these issues are never accidental, they are always by design.

      Unfortunately, the government of Canada has a vested interest in destroying Indigenous nations and Indigenous identities, because capitalist development in this country is built on stolen land and broken treaties. For Canada to honour its promises ± it must first implement the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples. However, these are just the bare minimum standard for equality, equity, and respect of fundamental rights - they are not even revolutionary demands. However, implementing this basic standard will cost the capitalist government billions of dollars as well as much of its economic and political power, which they are not willing to give up. It is also important to keep in mind, that while billions of dollars sounds like a lot, what has been stolen from Indigenous nations over the past 151 years (and four hundred years before that) is worth infinitely more.

      From residential schools to the 60s scoop, to the present-day Millennial scoop, the youth suicide epidemic and skyrocketing youth incarceration rates - Canada 151st birthday marks 151 years of attempting to eradicate Indigenous nations, through targeting their most vulnerable, Indigenous children and youth. Despite this ongoing attack, Indigenous nations are fighting back; we see this in the “Justice for Our Stolen Children” camp and many other examples. As human-loving people, we have a responsibility to become stronger allies to Indigenous people who are on the front lines fighting for a better future for their children and youth, which will inherently mean a better future for all working and oppressed people in Canada.

      Follow Tamara Hansen on Twitter: @THans01

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