The federal government has announced $40 billion will be spent to compensate First Nations children who have been harmed by the Child and Family Services (CFS) system.
But some who have suffered at the hands of that system say no amount of money can compensate for the harms that CFS has inflicted on families and communities for decades.
On Tuesday, the federal Liberals said they have reached an agreement-in-principle with First Nations partners to compensate First Nations children who were harmed by the underfunding of Canada’s on-reserve child welfare system, and to make reforms to CFS and how it deals with First Nations children and communities.
“No amount of compensation can make up for the traumas that First Nations children, families and communities have experienced,” federal Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu said during a Tuesday press conference announcing details of the agreement.
“But this will begin the process of healing, and it will support families on that journey of healing, and support individuals that have experienced extraordinary loss and harm.”
According to details of the agreement, the feds will spend $20 billion to compensate First Nations residents harmed by the system, and another $20 billion to reform CFS over a five year period.
Compensation will be made available to First Nations children who lived on-reserve or in the Yukon, and who were removed from their homes between April 1, 1991 and March 31, 2022.
Christine Miskonoodinkwe-Smith, who lives in Toronto but was born in Winnipeg, didn’t spend any of her childhood with her birth family, as when she was just one she was taken from her mother and her home, and would endure horrific abuse for years at the hands of the couple who adopted her.
On Tuesday, Miskonoodinkwe-Smith said that although she is happy to see the settlement reached, she does not believe that money alone will compensate for what many children have gone through and continue to go through.
“I think it is good that it is finally happening, but money does not solve everything, and the government needs to do more than just compensate through money when it comes to what happened to so many First Nations children here in Canada,” Miskonoodinkwe-Smith said.
“I think they need to offer more supports for people that have been through the system or are going through the system, because when you don’t have support that is when you feel alone and left behind just like I did for many years.”
According to Miskonoodinkwe-Smith meaningful reform to the system can only happen when more Canadians fully understand how CFS has operated in First Nations communities for decades.
“We can’t just throw money at things and believe they will be fixed,” she said. “I want to see more education about how this system has operated, because if we don’t understand what is wrong and what has been wrong for years than we can’t fix it.”
On Tuesday, Sixties Scoop Legacy of Canada director Katherine Legrange said she does not believe the settlement goes far enough to compensate victims.
“We feel that this settlement falls short of fully atoning for the decades of discrimination and broken families we have endured at the hands of government,” Legrange said in an email.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Regional Chief for Manitoba Cindy Woodhouse, who has been leading negotiations that led up to the announcement, spoke about what years of underfunding and “discriminatory practices” within the CFS system has done to harm children and families in First Nations communities.
“Discriminatory funding under the federal First Nations CFS system has led to a massive overrepresentation of First Nations children into the child welfare system in every province and territory in this country,” Woodhouse said.
“Every day for decades First Nations children, some even newborns, have been ripped from their families and many denied medical services and other supports when they needed them, all at the hands of a program that should have protected them.”
AFN estimates that as many as 200,000 children could be compensated through the agreement.
The parties have until March 31 to finalize details of the deal, and it is not yet known when payments will be made, or how much each recipient of compensation will be paid.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun