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Activist dedicates honorary degree to Jordan Anderson

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Cindy Blackstock received a standing ovation at the University of Winnipeg, along with her honorary doctorate.</p></p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Cindy Blackstock received a standing ovation at the University of Winnipeg, along with her honorary doctorate.

A woman who led the fight to prove child welfare services discriminated against First Nations children received a standing ovation at the University of Winnipeg, where she received an honorary doctorate on Friday.

Cindy Blackstock worked on the issue for nine years, fighting the federal government. Last year, she notched a victory when the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the government failed to provide the same quality of child welfare services to reserves as it did elsewhere.

Her speech at Friday's convocation ceremony was not a celebration. It was a call for tomorrow's educators, theologists, and those working in the kinesiology field to stand up for children.

"We're not going to give up until these kids have a great childhood," said Blackstock.

Blackstock's dream is that indigenous children don't have to grow up recovering from their childhoods, don't have to spend their childhoods fighting for justice, and are respected for who they are.

"I have a dream for non-indigenous children too, and that's that they grow up in a country where they never have to say they're sorry," she said.

She also urged graduates to follow the less complacent path—the one that calls to them, but isn't lined with the comfort of home and family.

When Blackstock graduated with her bachelor's degree in psychology, she was a timid public speaker and she hoped to find a routine job where she didn't have to talk to many people.

"I'll get a job in the middle of the pack, and for awhile I did just that... but there was the dream that life had for me," she said Friday, her voice strong and clear, her eyes never looking down to her notes.

Blackstock went on to get two masters degrees, one in management and one in jurisprudence, and a PhD in social work.

She's currently the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and professor of social work at McGill University.

Blackstock dedicated the honorary degree to Jordan Anderson, an indigenous child who died in hospital in 1999 while the province and feds argued for two years over who would pay for his home care.

Blackstock's fight for equality for indigenous children is not over. She recently pushed the government to abide by the ruling the tribunal made last year.

"We're inching our way forward, but we're not there yet," she said.

Blackstock's case against the federal government has become the topic of the documentary We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice by Alanis Obomsawin. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016.

stefanie.lasuik@freepress.mb.ca

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