2020 Reflections: Another step forward

I know many of you have already been inspired and encouraged by last week’s decision from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The Tribunal concluded that the Federal Government has been discriminating against First Nations children living on reserve by failing to provide the same level of child welfare support as is provided to other children. This is a meaningful story on many different levels for Leadership 2020.

The decision itself is profound: It states that the Federal Government’s management of First Nations child and family services and its funding model has “resulted in denials of services and created various adverse impacts for many First Nations children and families living on reserves.” It follows that the government must “cease the discriminatory practice and take measures to redress and prevent it” suggesting service redesign, increased funding, and support for FN’s to deliver their own culturally appropriate child welfare services.

Interestingly, the decision also states the “the fate and future of many First Nations children is still being determined by the government” – comparing the situation to that of the residential schools. If you have not already reviewed the short news clip of Cindy Blackstock, ED of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) of Canada, I encourage you to do so for both content and delivery – Cindy is compelling

And this clip leads me to another reflection on the case – that of vision, persistence, engagement and leadership. After 10 years of trying to get the government to understand and address the inequities, the FNCFCS launched their case in 2007, and the effort that it has taken to prepare the evidence and make the case has been huge. Cindy herself was being ‘watched’ by the Federal Government – presumably for daring to speak out about injustice! This is a long time to wait and wonder if the investment of resources, energy and heart will be worth it, and if fairness and justice will prevail. Yet, Cindy says, “It is our job as adults to stand up for kids” and the FNCFCS and allies continued to pursue this because it was an opportunity to “reset the conscience of the country” by laying out the facts of the situation. I am so moved by that concept; it particularly resonates at this time, so close on the heels of the TRC reports.

We talk a lot in 2020 about the importance of leaders having a vision that they can communicate clearly to others, and ‘walking their talk’ with congruent actions. The best visions are aspirational but also personal – people see how it connects to a value or purpose that has meaning for them. Cindy’s words – and perseverance – are expressions of her vision and of her commitment to ‘walk the talk’ even when it is a very, very uncertain and long journey.

The other learning for me in this case is the power of engagement. FNCFCS created the “I am a Witness” campaign that invited people to follow the case before the Tribunal in the media or by attending the 70+ days of hearings: “As a caring Canadian, we invite you to follow this historic case and then decide for yourself whether or not you feel the federal government is treating First Nations children fairly today.” It is an invitation to pay attention and to make a decision for oneself. It is not telling people what to think but to be engaged as a caring Canadian. They transparently offer information, resources, ideas, and videos in order for people to thoughtfully consider the issues. For me, this is an example of congruence in beliefs and actions – of inviting, not telling and oppressing; of being transparent, not secret; of trusting in the caring nature of others and the potential for Indigenous and non-indigenous people to act in solidarity for children. The Campaign is also brilliant in that it is not about Cindy as the hero-leader out front (although in my view she is heroic), but about thousands of caring people in circle. This is leadership in action – vision, persistence, invitation, engagement, inclusion, and above all – passion. Check out the FNCFS website for more information and their suggested actions.

Melanie Mark’s story is also a powerful one about resilience and perseverance. She grew up in very difficult circumstances, experienced trauma and disruption throughout her young life, lost her siblings into foster care, and then fought to reunite the family. She also went to school, pursued higher education, volunteered within her community, advocated for children and youth and eventually joined the Representative for Children and Youth’s office. She was elected this week to sit as the MLA for Mt Pleasant. I can’t describe the joyful feeling I had watching her be drummed into the Heritage Hall after her victory. (She has also agreed to come on as a 2020 speaker in the future).

So what inspires people like Cindy, Melanie and many of the people we work with to keep working through the challenges and growing? Psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets sheds some light on this.

“Think about your hero. Do you think of this person as someone with extraordinary abilities who achieved with little effort? Now go find out the truth. Find out the tremendous effort that went into their accomplishment—and admire them more.”