The government of Canada has set aside $31 billion to compensate indigenous children who were subjected to discrimination and to cover the costs of a long-term reform of its First Nations welfare system.
“Historic injustices require historic reparations,” Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu said in a statement.
Between 1874 and 1996 at least 150,000 indigenous children were taken from their families and sent to state-funded residential schools where many of them suffered from malnutrition and were subjected to various forms of abuse. This system has often been referred to as a “cultural genocide” due to its attempts to assimilate children by stripping them of their cultural identity. The government’s treatment of indigenous children was widely criticized after more than 1,100 graves were discovered on the sites of former residential schools.
Underlining that “no amount of money can reverse the harm experienced by First Nations children or return years lost by separation from their families, communities, and culture,” Hajdu announced that the country’s government would offer C$40 billion to provide compensation and to cover the costs of long-term reform “so that future generations of First Nations children will never face the same systemic tragedies.”
This follows the 2016 decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that the level of state funding for child and family services for Indigenous people has been lower than that for other groups, and therefore more indigenous children ended up in foster care. In 2019 the tribunal ordered the federal government to pay C$40,000 to each affected child. Ottawa initially announced that it would appeal this decision but later suspended the appeal process in order to discuss the matter with various bodies representing indigenous people, and local authorities.
Hajdu noted that during the negotiations the Canadian government had pledged to compensate “those harmed by the federal government’s discriminatory funding practices” and to build a better future for new generations.Payments will begin after negotiations, which the minister called “progressive and productive,” conclude. An update is set to be provided by December 31. About 55,000 children might be eligible for compensation.
The news was welcomed by the Assembly of First Nations, one of the negotiations’ key participants.
“The magnitude of the proposed compensation package is a testament to how many of our children were ripped from their families and communities,” said the Assembly’s National Chief RoseAnne Archibald.