Dr. Cindy Blackstock (pictured) is a member of the Gitskan Nation and the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. She is also an associate professor at the University of Alberta. An academic who has worked in child and family services for more than 20 years, she is the author of more than 50 publications. Her key interests include exploring and addressing the causes of disadvantage for Aboriginal children and families by promoting fair and culturally based interventions. She also holds fellowships with the Ashoka Foundation and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. She was the third annual Mowafaghian Visiting Scholar on May 8, 2013.
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Speaking on the topic “Mosquito Advocacy: Effective strategies for tackling structural risks affecting First Nations children,” Cindy Blackstock gives an overview of the challenges facing First Nations children in Canada and also presents the strategy — adopted by the First Nations Caring Society — of filing a human rights complaint against the federal government.
Canada is one of the eighth wealthiest countries in the world, as recognized by its G8 status. But while the country has a G8 economy, the children, according to UNICEF, are G17.
Furthermore, Blackstock says, First Nations children receive fewer government and public services than other Canadian children enjoy. And, although Aboriginal children represent less than five percent of the Canadian child population, they represent more than 48 percent of the children in child welfare care.
They’re not driven there by abuse, Blackstock says. “When we parcel out the factors that are driving First Nations kids into care, it’s poverty, poor housing, and substance misuse,” she says. When Blackstock did a study in Nova Scotia of all children who were removed into care (including but not limited to First Nations children) between 2003 and 2005, some 95 percent of these families had incomes below $20,000.
The biggest predictor of whether you’re going to have your children removed is how much money you make a year, she says.
The First Nations Caring Society was created in 1998 to address these issues. Working with others, the society helped develop evidence-based solutions for First Nations children. Leading researchers, including five economists, contributed to a report titled Wen:de The Journey Continues, [hotlink to: http://cwrp.ca/node/913] released in 2005. But the federal government failed to implement the report’s recommendations.
The Assembly of First Nations subsequently passed a resolution suggesting the group file a human rights complaint against the government of Canada. This was done on February 27, 2007. After several unsuccessful efforts by the Federal government to have the case dismissed on legal technicalities, a hearing on the complaint began on February 25, 2013. “It is the first time anywhere in the world that a national government has been held so accountable,” Blackstock said.
Blackstock says she envisioned the idea of “Mosquito Advocacy” after reflecting on her childhood in rural northern B.C. “I was thinking—what’s really small and can move large animals (organizations)? ” she said. “Mosquitoes are small and they use that to their advantage. They’re infectious. They work in teams and are target oriented. ”
As part of her “Mosquito Advocacy,” Blackstock advocates the following principles:
- Embed your message in deep national values.
- Work in peaceful and respectful ways.
- Frame your message in an infectious way based on values that appeal to everybody.
- Advocate for evidence-based solutions versus just bringing attention to a problem.
- Be persistent.
- Speak authentically.
- Know when to say ‘no’ to money.
- Use everyone’s different gifts.
- Be courageous and know what you are prepared to sacrafice and what the other side is prepared to sacrifice.
- Be creative and use multiple strategies simultaneously.
- Never reprise with nasty behaviour even when the opposing organization is prepared to use it.
- Avoid being ideological by remaining open to contrary opinion and evidence.
“Caring is not enough,” Blackstock says. “It doesn’t do anything to make things right. It’s a starting point. The real test is what you do.”