By Aly Muhammad Ladak, Science Staff Writer
The discoveries of children’s mass graves in former residential schools earlier this year sent shock waves throughout Canada, shedding light on the horrible extent and unsettling recency of Canada’s oppression of Indigenous people. That Canada and its institutions had mistreated and destroyed the lives of its Indigenous peoples was not a new fact; nonetheless, these heartbreaking events precipitated an unforeseen outpouring of support and calls for action. However, even in the light of recent increases in awareness, this mistreatment of Indigenous children is often treated as purely a shameful part of Canada’s history. In reality, it continues today. One key area where Canadian systems fail to support Indigenous children is in healthcare.
There is often conflict between levels of our government over how to source funds for the healthcare of Indigenous children. These conflicts can take years – during which patients are systematically under-treated, neglected, and ultimately not given the same support and standard of care which should be extended to all. The case of Jordan River Anderson, after whom Jordan’s Principle is named, is a reminder of how our healthcare systems continue to systematically neglect and exclude First Nations children from the care they deserve.
Jordan River Anderson, from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, was born with several rare disabilities that required medical care. He received medical care until the age of two, when doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg informed his parents that he could transition to a special home that would provide care in a home environment. The federal government and the government of Manitoba both tried to make the other pay for his care – and they made him wait until they solved the dispute before allowing him to live in a home. Unfortunately, Jordan was never given that opportunity. He passed away in 2004 at the age of 5, having spent two years in a hospital that another child with the same conditions might have spent in a home.
The tragedy sparked a call to action Canada-wide, and it seemed like Canadian institutions might be making progress towards a just treatment of Indigenous children. Jordan’s Principle was passed by a resolution in the House of Commons in 2007, mandating that the health needs of Indigenous children should be met first, while the payment disputes would be resolved later on. The potential for change soon waned, as a meaningful implementation of Jordan’s principle and improved care for Indigenous children were repeatedly deferred and denied.
An Ongoing Battle
Jordan’s principle was heavily discussed in the recent federal election, although it may not seem like it. In the debates and throughout the campaign, the Liberal government and opposition parties went back and forth on whether ‘the government is suing Indigenous children.’ The subject of one of the lawsuits in question is none other than Jordan’s Principle. The lawsuit is based on a 2016 call to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada which “call[ed] upon all levels of government to fully implement Jordan’s Principle”. Although it had been nearly ten years since Jordan’s Principle was passed, there have since been countless cases of similar situations, where payment disputes resulted in a reduced standard of care or a lack of home care, for Indigenous children. This call to action went largely unanswered, and in 2019 this class-action lawsuit was filed by families like Jordan’s, asking for a meaningful, complete implementation of Jordan’s principle and fair compensation for damages suffered. The government’s response, however, has been to fight this lawsuit, largely on the basis that it asks for compensation for damages done before Jordan’s Principle was passed. In fact, under their implementation of the principle, Jordan’s family won’t receive any compensation for the damage done and the quality of life denied to their child. In short, Canada continues to deny Indigenouschildren and their families equitable healthcare access.
When it comes to the legal status of Indigenous children’s healthcare, there have been a variety of changes over the past few decades, some bringing progress and others showing opposition. Despite the fluctuating situation, one factor has remained constant – Indigenous children are not given the support and healthcare they deserve.