Canada has pledged up to C$40bn ($31bn; £23.6bn) in compensation for indigenous children and families who suffered discrimination while in foster care.
In September, a top court upheld a 2016 ruling that the government underfunded First Nations services compared with those for non-indigenous children.
It ordered C$40,000 ($31,350; £23,340) payouts to each child who was in the on-reserve welfare system after 2006.
Indigenous peoples in Canada (also known as Aboriginals or First Nations) are the indigenous peoples within the boundaries of Canada. They comprise the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.
For more than 100 years, Canadian authorities forcibly separated thousands of Indigenous children from their families and made them attend residential schools, which aimed to sever Indigenous family and cultural ties and assimilate the children into white Canadian society. The schools also forced the children to abandon their beliefs and religion and become Christians.
In these schools, many children were underfed, bullied, and sexually abused. In the last decade, indigenous families and civil rights groups took the Canadian government to court seeking damages done to indigenous children and their families in the last century.
The settlement money is to cover the cost of settling a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal order, two class-action lawsuits, and long-term reform of the Indigenous child welfare system over a five-year period.
“It’s a positive announcement, but what we need to see is how this actually lands in terms of payments for children and families,” said Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
In 2019, the tribunal ordered Ottawa to pay $40,000 — the maximum allowed under the Canadian Human Rights Act — to each child, along with their primary guardian, who attended the on-reserve child welfare system from at least Jan. 1, 2006, to a date to be determined by the tribunal.
It also directed the federal government to pay $40,000 to each First Nations child, along with their primary guardian, who was denied services or forced to leave home to access services covered by the policy known as Jordan’s Principle.
“We reflect on 30 years of failure and discrimination toward Indigenous children in the child welfare system,” Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller told reporters at Parliament Hill.
“This is 30 years of the cost of failure, and that cost is high.”
Miller said the $40 billion figure has not been finalized. He pointed to ongoing “fragile conversations” taking place between the federal government and Indigenous leaders, which could alter how much the government eventually offers.
Miller said the goal of those changes is “to make sure we are not repeating the model that has ripped children from their families into care.”
The parties have agreed to negotiate until a self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31.
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, filed the original complaint with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in 2007. She now says the fight won’t be over until discrimination against First Nations children ends.
“If we can stop it, it will be the first time since Confederation that a generation of First Nations kids doesn’t have to grow up spending their whole childhood trying to be treated equally as other kids in public services,” she said.
‘Money does not mean justice’
The AFN welcomed the government’s commitment.
“There’s not enough money ever to repair the harms that the system has done to people,” said AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse, who is in the negotiations.
“I don’t think any amount of money is ever going to change that brokenness … But it shows that there was harm done and we have to find a path forward.”