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This article was published 22/6/2018 (855 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There’s a lot of talk about kids lately.
Incarcerated children. Forcibly removed from their parents. Punished for something they had no control over.
For two years, the United States government has been taking children away from migrant parents when they arrive at the border with Mexico and detaining them in crowded, jail-like facilities. In April and May, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a "zero-tolerance" policy, 2,000 more were added.
These children, some of whom are toddlers, have been in deplorable, traumatizing, dangerous conditions. Most are kept inside 22 hours a day. Some sleep in cages and on concrete floors.
Children’s aid workers call the policy "domestic abuse." One worker, Megan McKenna, said the children "have no understanding of what’s happening to them or when they’re going to see their family again, and we can’t tell them when they’re going to see their parents again because we don’t know either."
It’s a scene one would see in a war zone.
Arguing in favour of his policy, Sessions quoted the Bible, stating: "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order."
All week, the world condemned this "order" in the United States, and U.S. President Donald Trump.
The United Nations demanded that the practice "immediately halt," as it is a "serious violation of the rights of the child."
Pope Francis called the policy "contrary to our Catholic values" and "immoral."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the policy, saying: "What’s going on in the United States is wrong. I can’t imagine what the families living through this are enduring. Obviously, this is not the way we do things in Canada."
The problem, of course, is this is almost exactly the way things are done in Canada.
Thousands of Indigenous parents have had their children removed, all too often illegitimately. Removed children are often put into dangerous, traumatic situations. Many don’t know what’s happening or when they’re going to see their family again. Some make contact, but have difficulty re-connecting.
There are of course children, in the best of circumstances, who end up in loving, nurturing homes.
But they still experience the impacts of removal.
All have questions about where they come from, why they were given up and how to feel about this.
Not every child in the system experiences abuse, but all endure trauma.
It’s a deplorable situation.
Indigenous child welfare is, bar none, the No. 1 thing readers ask me to write about.
The recent 2016 census showed more than 4,300 Indigenous children under the age of five were in foster care, constituting 51 per cent of all children in the child welfare system.
In Manitoba, this number rises to 91 per cent.
Nine out of every 10 children in the child-welfare system in our province are Indigenous.
The reasons for this are related to two historical events: policies (namely the residential-school system) resulting in thousands of Indigenous families mired in poverty and challenges, and beliefs Canadians hold regarding Indigenous ability — or rather, inability — to parent.
The challenges are straightforward, but solutions are obviously complex. Canada needs to make a true and lasting commitment to support Indigenous communities, provide long-term resources for families and provide education for those ignorant to situations and solutions.
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has found that Canada racially discriminates against Indigenous children and ordered five times — yes, five — that policies be changed.
But very little has happened.
In fact, young people are dying. We know the name of Tina Fontaine, but there are many more.
Most don’t want to compare the two situations in the United States and Canada. I get it.
Canada’s pastime these days is pointing a finger at Trump and saying "not us."
But Canada has another pastime: forgetting the three fingers pointed back.
The welfare of children is something worth being outraged about. And taking action.
Kind of like how Canadians — and the world — spent this week.
After millions of tweets and tens of thousands of hours of media attention (Trump’s language), the United States changed paths.
On the same day Trudeau made his comments, Trump issued an order to keep families together.
The policy change wasn’t much. The president refused to act swiftly to reunite families and the policy is still to jail first, ask questions later.
But it was evidence of the power of pressure.
Politicians answer to mass movement.
Social media has become the poll of popularity. It’s a method fraught with reactive elements and lacking long-term planning, mind you, but it’s powerful.
It’s hard to ignore marches, in-person demands of MPs and MLAs, and — if there’s a lot of them — tweets.
So, there’s nothing wrong with calling out Trump’s xenophobia.
I just wish that Canadians would have equal vigour for what we can substantively change.
The lives of our children.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Saturday, June 23, 2018 at 7:57 AM CDT: Final
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