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Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Aboriginal lesson in child protection

Two recent reports on child protection have highlighted the ongoing issue of Aborginal children in the child protection system in Canada. The reports, one in Alberta and the other in Saskatchewan, show that between 7-8 out of 10 children in they systems are related to the Aboriginal communities. This is despite the fact that Aboriginals make up only about 15% of the Canadian population. Why then such disparities?

It is the legacy of bad policy that, as a society, we thought had been good policy. Through the residential schools Canada set out to eradicate the Aboriginal intending to assimilate their children into the dominant white society.

Father Joseph Hugonnard, principal, with staff and aboriginal students of the Industrial School, May 1885, Fort Qu'Appelle, Sask (O.B. Buell/Library and Archives Canada/PA-118765).

Perhaps no quote illustrates the poilcy better than this one: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.” Dr. Duncan Campbell Scott - 1920

It is this policy that led around 150,000 Aboroginal children into the training and residential schools from the late 1800s to the late 1990s. Thousands died, most were abused, underfed and forced to live in a culture that was foreign while their own culture was oppressed.

Today, in child protection, we have the legacy which is why there are so many children involved with child care. There were generations raised in these schools who lacked any role mdoelling about how to be a parent or even a successful, nurturing adult. Such essentials as how to love, how to raise a child, how to build a child up, how to run a family were all lessons missing. The reservation system often robbed people of the chance to support a family and the schools typically failed at work training. It will take generations to fix this damage.

Not surprisingly, substance abuse and mental health problems are also a major part of the legacy which further damages the parenting capacity. Add to this entrenched poverty as a further consequence and you can see why there are so many Aboriginal famileis and why neglect is the major issue. It is hard to do what you have never been trained to do - parent effectively.

If we are to repair the damage, then Aboriginal communities are going to need to be supported in a multi-generational healing process. Yes, children need protection but families need support, healing and opportunities to learn how to parent. As a society we need to come to grips with this. The Alberta and Saskatchewan reports both highlight this crucial and complex issue.

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