Crusader for Indigenous children honoured with key to the city
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After fighting for decades to ensure Indigenous children can get the care they need, Cindy Blackstock has been given a key to the City of Winnipeg.
Considered the city’s highest honour, Mayor Brian Bowman presented the symbolic key during a ceremony at city hall on Tuesday.
While noting she’s devoted more than 30 years to child welfare and rights work, Bowman described Blackstock as “one of the greatest teachers of our time” and a “passionate advocate for justice and reconciliation.”
“As a young social worker, Dr. Blackstock discovered that vulnerable First Nations children were subject to discrimination, receiving only a fraction of the funding that non-Indigenous children receive. The inequalities, she said, created a perfect storm of disadvantage. She set out to do something about it and she did,” said Bowman.
A member of the Gitxsan First Nation in B.C., Blackstock is a professor of social work and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
She is a well-known advocate for the implementation of Jordan’s Principle, which requires the federal government to ensure all First Nations children can access equitable social services. Blackstock and her colleagues launched a successful human rights challenge, which concluded the federal government had failed to implement the principle.
The principle is named after Jordan River Anderson from Norway House Cree Nation, who died at age five in 2005 as the provincial and federal governments argued over which of them should pay for his medical care.
He was approved for specialized home-based care when he was two, but died in hospital before that care arrived.
Jerry Daniels, grand chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, said Blackstock’s contribution to the principle improved the lives of many children.
“Because of the work Cindy has led, thousands of children and youth in our territories and across Canada are receiving medical, educational and social supports. Cindy’s commitment and life’s work is changing lives every day for children on and off reserve,” said Daniels.
Bowman said Blackstock was also a major contributor to the development of Winnipeg’s Indigenous Accord.
“At a critical time in our journey of reconciliation, she’s offered invaluable guidance and council,” he said.
While she is not a Winnipeg resident, Blackstock told media her work has often brought her to the city, noting it’s where Jordan River Anderson was once hospitalized.
Blackstock said she will continue to fight for the elimination of other inequalities faced by Indigenous children.
“Thanks to Jordan’s principle (and) Jordan’s family, there’s been over a million services and products given to First Nations kids that they otherwise wouldn’t have received, just because they’re First Nations. But there’s more inequalities to address… Let’s cost out all the inequalities, in water, in hydro, in broadband, in children’s programs and then let’s create a… plan to fix them all because we should never have a country where a First Nations child has to dream about a clean glass of water,” she told the Free Press.
Blackstock said she hopes the Winnipeg ceremony will raise local awareness about Jordan’s Principle and help ensure the federal government continues to honour it.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.