In recent times, the provision of appropriate care to members of First Nation tribes has been of the utmost importance to the Canadian federal government. Years of contact with European powers during colonial wars successively left indigenous communities weak and with unfulfilledpromises. The struggle that ensued between 1754 and 1763 between France and Britain had land ownership at its core in addition to a total disregard for the welfare of the Indigenous peoples of Canada. In particular, the Métis and the Inuit residing south of the Arctic Circle had risked their lives for their respective foreign allies, yet they received nothing substantial in return and had to wallow in the haze of their prevailing conditions. It was this reality that first motivated the Canadian government to establish the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) whose mandate was to now care for the 634 recognized First Nation bands (Blackstock, 2016). Through the North Affairs Canada (INAC) and the Federal Identity Program (FIP), part of their supposed decree to protect vulnerable members of the society involved the dislodgment of indigenous children from their families and communities. Beginning with the so-called “Sixties Scoop,” Aboriginal children were systematically plucked from their families and communities and placed with new non-indigenous families(McKenzie, 2016, p. 8). They would then be placed in foster homes while others put up for adoption. It is currently estimated that close to 20,000 aboriginal children have gone through the system where a majority of them have been assigned white middle-class families often thought capable of caring for them(Blackstock, 2016, p.92). Even though the program was initiated in good faith, detractors criticize it for the trauma that it caused to children. The abrupt nature of the separation from families and communities has been blamed for the psychological angst that these children went on to experience. The purpose of this research paper is, therefore, to examine the (re)-homing of indigenous children into non-indigenous children by the Canadian child welfare system and the trauma that they consequently experienced due to such policies.
Child Welfare Displacements
The primary purpose of the (re)-homing of indigenous children by the Canadian child welfare system was to accord them with better opportunities fundamental in a changing society. Chief among them was education which was then viewed as the most integral tool in an ever-changing society. The general idea was to remove native children from their indigenous families and communities and placing them in non-indigenous (mostly white middle-class families) that would provide an ideal environment during the assimilation process. Here, they were expected to learn new concepts, amass invaluable knowledge and values that were acceptable in Canadian society. It is, however, vital to acknowledge that the type of education and schooling provided to First Nation children while in these new locations differed from the widely popular European system of education.They were taught according to their family’s individual needs and the class from which they hailed from(Maxwell, 2017, p.303). In essence, the agreement signed between the federal government and various Canadian provinces to extend these social services to children from indigenous families was done without the approval of Aboriginal nations. No consultations were done before it ultimately came into effect. This meant that there was an absence of fundamental apparatus that would have been vital in assessing the psychological impact of this program while at the same time preserving the Aboriginal culture. According to Palmater (2012), the Canadian Aboriginal communities are now a shell of their former selves and barely surviving owing to aggressive assimilation policies that they had to grapple with in the wake of federal incursions. In addition to this, the federal government’s actions were an insult to the special relationship that the First Nations share with the continuous Crown of Canada. The act of separating indigenous children from their families and placing them in non-indigenous homes, therefore, displays a superiornature power that the federal government wields over Aboriginal communities while disregarding their rights.
Increased Risk of Mental Health Disorders
Children placed in non-indigenous families were brutalized thus affecting their psychological well-being. Evidence gathered by the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry reveals that the placement of children in foster homes was a form of “kidnapping” that altered the identity of indigenous children. Those who finally gather the courage to talk openly about their experience in these difficult circumstances often share stories of abuse ranging from physical to even sexual. Mental health illnesses are also a common result of this situation with many of the children separated from their kin exhibiting high levels of emotional distress and depression. The laid-back attitude adopted by
the authorities and caregivers also means that they rarely receive the medical attention that they require to enable them to live fulfilling lives. Notable First Nation figures such as Chief Phil Fontaine are explicit in their criticism of the whole idea of (re)-homing. As a victim of sexual abuse, while attending the infamous Fort Alexander Catholic residential school, his is, therefore, a first-hand experience of the trauma that indigenous children were subjected to by the settler-state. It is from this state of affairs that he attributes “Native Anguish and Discontent” to that is still prevalent in modern times. Generations of children passing through the Canadian child welfare system admit to being neglected and abused by those meant to protect them(MacDonald &Attaran, 2007, p. 2). By definition, a majority of these indigenous children have experienced an unimaginable level of trauma that may very well leave them scarred for life (Krista Maxwell, n.d.). As a result of their problem-solving capacity soon becomes impaired with a majority of them now adopting a noticeable resistance to any change that that may come their way. The risk of substance abuse also increases with such predominant conditions since intoxicants are now used as a coping mechanism to numb the psychological pain being experienced. Similarly, suicide resulting from depression soon follows and is now listed as a leading cause of deaths among members of the Aboriginal community; all linked to prior treatment at (re)-homing programs. It is for this very reason that some settler-humanitarianism causes have emerged across Canada with the aim of providing spiritual healing to indigenous children subjected to abuse and trauma.
Institutional Conflicts with Indigenous Practices and Values
Placing indigenous children in non-indigenous homes was not entirely done in the interest of Aboriginal communities but that of the federal government and in direct conflict with their practices and values. Initially, settlers were well aware of the threat that these communities posed to their social and economic expansion. Large populations of indigenous inhabitants of the land were viewed as impediments to the efforts made by successive administrations to develop a country where economic advancements was not hampered by efforts to reclaim ancestral land. The idea hatched was to separate indigenous children from their families and communities, severing the deep cultural ties that these individuals shared with their kin and ultimately assimilating them. Non-indigenous families would then complete the process by forcing indigenous children into residential schools that were meant to transform their modus operandi and change their belief system(Navia, Henderson, &First Charger, 2018). Chief among the goals set by the Canadian child welfare system was to develop areas of instruction that were a reflection of the contemporary workplace environment. Certain ideologies had to be inculcated during this stage to ensure that these new placements resulted in success. Communication was done in either English or the French language, with severe punishment being meted out on any child found conversing in their native tongue. In essence, this was a campaign whose primary focus was the destruction of native cultures and replacing them with Western ideals. Suits filed in 2007 by the Assembly of First Nations and the then First Nation Child and Family Caring Society of Canada brought this reality to light citing the numerous violations that resulted from the implementation of the Jordan Principle(Blackstock, 2016, p. 290). Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce had been investigating this same phenomenon as early as 1907 and had earlier on concluded that this systematic ethnic discrimination was the source of immense trauma experienced by (re)-homed indigenous children. These actions were conducted without regard for the well-being of indigenous children even though it was apparent to the authorities that they were vulnerable members of society. Being voiceless in the entire decision-making process meant that they quickly became victims of broken promises and the ill-will that Jordan’s Principle had for them. Children from low-income families living in reserves, therefore, became easy targets for the authorities who would snatch them from their families and place them in foster homes or with non-indigenous families.
In conclusion, the (re)-homing of indigenous children and subsequently placing them in non-indigenous families is fast becoming an issue of concern for various right groups that highlight the plight of those in these circumstances. The separation that occurs after children are taken from their families and communities results in trauma that profoundly affects their lives. They lose their sense of identity and grow up in a new environment where they are likely to be subjected to emotional, physical and even sexual abuse. It is therefore imperative that the Canadian child welfare system adopts a paradigm shift that rectifies this historical injustice while seeking to foster a sense of spiritual healing for trauma victims.