To mark 20 years of the McConnell Foundation partnering to forward reconciliation work, we wish to honour our partner the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (Caring Society).
The Foundation first began funding reconciliation activities in 2003 with the Caring Society’s Caring Across the Boundaries, an initiative that fostered partnerships between First Nations’ communities and voluntary sector agencies, bringing outside support to communities on communities’ terms. This funding was a launchpad for a nearly 20-year partnership with the Caring Society and its Executive Director, Dr. Cindy Blackstock, whose leadership, understanding and passion have helped guide McConnell on our reconciliation journey as we gain a deeper understanding of the realities faced by First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in Canada.
Dr. Blackstock equates the beginnings of that relationship to peering into the dark with a flashlight:
“The gravest injustices are often the ones that have become normalized in society that they become invisible. Back in 2001, I was a student in the joint McGill-McConnell program; it felt like we had a flashlight into the darkness of the inequalities and the complacency of the Canadian public – what amounted to apartheid public services.”
The project Caring Across the Boundaries built partnerships between the voluntary sector and First Nations communities, as a first step to remedy these inequities. It also helped build the Caring Society’s strategic direction. The impetus through it all was to dismantle some of the structural injustices that First Nations children were facing.
Dr. Blackstock explains: “Our goal was to expand the beam and bring the light so that Canadians could think differently about their relationship with First Nations. It’s in those earliest days when we were the lone beam in the darkness that we were befriended by McConnell.”
Long-term partnerships for lasting reconciliation
In redressing systemic injustices faced by First Nations children in Canada, the Caring Society has been focused on litigation, research and education. In 2007, the organization alongside the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) alleging that Canada is racially discriminating against First Nations children by providing less child and family services funding and failing to implement Jordan’s Principle–a child-first principle to ensure First Nations children get the services they need when they need them. Within 30 days of this complaint, federal government funding to the Caring Society was taken away, making other sources of funding even more crucial.
“First Nations children on reserve and in the Yukon have been getting less in public services since Confederation. Those impacts are wide sweeping across water, education, health care and child welfare, and make it more difficult for families to recover from the multi-generational trauma of residential schools,” says Blackstock.
On January 26, 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the Canadian government is racially discriminating against 165,000 First Nations children. With this legal pressure and the advocacy work from multiple actors, the federal government has since then committed $3.5 billion towards meeting the needs of First Nations children through Jordan’s Principle. The long-term application of this monetary commitment is done in collaboration with provinces, First Nations partners and service organizations across the country, as explained on the government’s website.
Nonetheless, the legal battle continues. In late December 2021, two historic 40-billion-dollar agreements-in-principle were reached between the Canadian government, the Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations. The agreements-in-principle will compensate First Nations children who experienced Canada’s discrimination and address ongoing inequalities in First Nations child and family services and Jordan’s Principle. Litigation and negotiations are ongoing.
The Caring Society has worked tirelessly to raise public awareness of the inequities that First Nations children, youth and families experience. As part of their advocacy, they are joined by Spirit Bear who represents the First Nations children impacted by the human rights case and all the children working towards reconciliation and equity. Spirit Bear is featured in children’s materials to aid learning about social justice reconciliation and appears in an impressive catalogue of books, films, learning guides and resources – that can be filtered by age group.
At McConnell, from the initial funding in 2003, engagement with reconciliation grew over the years, developing into the McConnell Reconciliation Initiative in 2013. Then, in 2021, reconciliation work became a focus area, one of the three pillars of the Foundation’s current strategic direction.
“We thank Cindy Blackstock and the Caring Society who have helped launch us on our nearly 20-year reconciliation journey thus far. There is much more to learn, and much more work to be done,” says Lili-Anna Pereša, President and CEO, McConnell. “We are grateful to all our partners who guide us and enable us to support community-driven solutions.”
“At this 20-year mark, we are aware that to address the existing inequities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, we will need to engage across sectors: business, philanthropy, government and social organizations collaborating to co-create long-term solutions in complementary ways,” says Pereša. “We know that this journey is as much an internal as an external one, and that the work is personal, organizational and systemic. We hope to continue to grow the beam of light in collaboration with our partners for the years to come.”
Find our more about the Caring Society’s ongoing litigation efforts: https://fncaringsociety.com/i-am-witness-tribunal-timeline-and-documents
Cycles and Seasons: a word on illustrating reconciliation
In Atikamekw culture, there are six seasons. Pre-spring and pre-winter are seasons for preparation of what is to come next. Artist Eruoma Awashish’s work, illustrating our Reconciliation through the seasons series, integrates the sacredness of all seasons and intermediate seasons. Her art can help us to reflect on the journey of reconciliation. How do we prepare and plan for what is next: whether it is the winter coming or next year’s spring? Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities continue to grow together in our reconciliation journey. As we continue, we may confront issues that resurface in cycles. The seasons remind us of these cycles. They help us prepare to revisit and circle back to these complex issues.