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Chief Matilda Ramjattan
LENNOX ISLAND - The chief of the Lennox Island First Nation is hoping the recent ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, that the federal government has spent less on social services for on-reserve children, will lead to positive change.
“They know what the issues are, they know what the problems are, but they haven’t pursued anything,” Chief Matilda Ramjattan said.
The tribunal’s report comes soon after the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Ramjattan feels government has no choice but to take action now.
“There has to be a pressure on their part to comply, to really take a look at this,” she said.
She notes that recommendations in the TRC report also address child welfare.
“When we’re talking about children in care, we want to do all that we can for our people,” said Ramjattan. “Hopefully we can take care of some of the things that the Child and Family program is not currently funded for.”
Marilyn LeFrank, director of child and family services for the Mi’Kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I., said the federal funding formula, Directive 20-1, has prevented Prince Edward Island’s First Nations communities from obtaining their own child protection agencies because of their low numbers. The federal funding, LeFrank said, “doesn’t take into consideration the unique and special needs of First Nations that are a result of generational trauma, issues of poverty, lack of housing and clean water and drug abuse.
“. . . the needs are a little bit different and need to be tended to differently than in the off-reserve population.”
She pointed out there have been recommendations on the table since 2000 on how the federal government can fix the deficiencies.
“Those recommendations are still there. They’re still the same as they were 16 years ago, and they’re doable. They just need to happen,” LeFrank insisted.
She acknowledged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already committed to addressing the recommendations in the truth and reconciliation report and is anticipating the federal government’s promised funding in this spring’s budget.
“I’d like to think it is a turning point for the country,” added LeFrank.
Ramjattan has funding expectations, too.
“With limited resources, we’re creative natives,” she said. “We make that dollar stretch as far as we can.
“But ... once you stretch a rubber band so far, eventually it’s going to break. That’s where we’re at and we’ve been at that place for quite a while. Whether it’s safe housing, education, language and culture, all of those things have been attacked by the government in ways of funding. Child welfare is about safe housing, and if a parent cannot adequately provide housing for a child, then that child becomes at risk of being taken away from the parent.”
Ramjattan said there are currently four workers sharing an office at the health centre, and space is not adequate.
“Hopefully, we can take care of some of the things that the child and family program is not currently funded for,” she said.