Canada’s first annual National day for Truth and Reconciliation coincided with Orange Shirt Day—September 30th. I saw a lot of orange shirts out and about in Victoria and it was inspiring and heartwarming to witness the support of Indigenous communities and survivors of residential schools.
But September 30th has come and gone. So what do we do with our orange shirts now? What comes next? How do non-Indigenous people keep showing up for the other 364 days of the year without such clear and simple guidance?
I hear the refrain of Every Child Matters about once a week. The phrase is also written on all of those orange t-shirts. But how do those words translate into actions beyond simply wearing a shirt and raising awareness? What are ways to demonstrate that we know and understand the meaning behind those three words? How can we live into the intention of that phrase and ensure Canada’s past does not keep repeating itself?
The Meaning of Every Child Matters
What does Every Child Matters mean to you? It’s not meant to be a slogan or a catchphrase. It’s not a blanket statement. Of course, all children matter and are important and deserve love and care. You and I know that.
To me, this phrase is both a reminder and a call to action. It is a reminder that some children seem to matter much more than others in this country and it is a call to action urging us to address that tragic and ongoing injustice.
However, there are some people who don’t see it that way. There are some who take issue with dedicated funding for First Nation reserves. There are governments (like our federal government) who go to court to avoid having to pay settlements to First Nations children that have been discriminated against for decades.
These people, when confronted with the concept of Indigenous-specific funding for youth see it as some sort of special treatment and counter with “but all children matter,” invoking a common misunderstanding in the same vein as showing up at a Black Lives Matter march with an All Lives Matter poster. (Or showing up at a cancer fundraiser shouting “There are other diseases too, you know!” Or spraying water on the house next to the one that is burning down while chanting “all houses matter.”)
Because the reality is that Indigenous children in Canada still do not have the same opportunities as non-Indigenous children. Because of colonialism, racism, bureaucracy, and stigma, they are treated very differently and have been left out of policies and practices that primarily cater to the dominant groups of society.
What Indigenous Children are Up Against
For example, there are still over 44 long-term drinking water advisories in effect in 32 different First Nations communities across Canada. Despite being one of the most water-rich countries in the world, Canada continues to be unwilling to guarantee access to clean drinking water for Indigenous people. (Non-existent or poor-quality drinking water in Indigenous communities is a direct result of colonization and forced relocation.)
Half of First Nations children live in poverty, with rates reaching as high as 64% of children in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Education for Indigenous children is lacking in terms of access, quality and support. The federal government spends less on Indigenous schools than the provinces put into their public school systems by as much as $8,000 per student. As a result, 61% of First Nation youth (20-24) have not completed high school, compared with 13% of non-Indigenous youth in Canada. Poverty, trauma, discrimination, and underfunding all contribute to this inequity.
Indigenous children and families are also overrepresented in the child welfare system. In British Columbia, Indigenous people make up roughly 10% of the total population yet Indigenous children comprise almost 60% of the population of children in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development and Delegated Aboriginal Agencies. In BC, an Indigenous child is eighteen times more likely to be removed from their parents than non-Indigenous children. In Manitoba, the numbers are even worse—Indigenous children make up 90% of those children in care even though Indigenous people make up only 18% of the total population of the province.
In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the federal government had been discriminating against First Nations children with respect to the delivery of child welfare services so much so that it ordered the maximum possible settlement.
Do Something that Matters
So yes, Every Child Matters. But until Indigenous communities and people are afforded the same right and access as everyone else in this country, that phrase will remain an aspirational call to action rather than a declarative statement of fact. Because right now, as you can see, all children don’t matter.
We need to level the playing field for Indigenous kids. We need to pay attention to the necessities that Indigenous communities urgently require—the things that you and your community may take for granted.
Educate yourself and those around you on the history of this country that isn’t taught in the school system of universities. Learn about the injustice of residential schools, the 60s scoop, and the outlawing of potlatch. Learn about Indigenous resistance like the Oka Crisis and the Unist’ot’en Camp as well as Indigenous achievements and contributions like the Cree code talkers during the Second World War or the origins of dental care.
Share this post with your friends and family members and have conversations with people in your social circle about the discrepancies between Indigenous and non-Indigenous
Let’s help each other out and share what each of us is doing in our communities to bring truth to the Indigenous experience in Canada and look at our own privilege and how we can begin or continue our journeys of decolonization and reconciliation.
Below are two great resources to help you understand and explore concepts about privilege.
Reconciliation is more important than ever. This work matters. These children matter. And the principles at the heart of this project—the core beliefs behind Every Child Matters—are basic things that we teach kids about how to treat each other. Share, be kind, listen, have an open mind, respect differences, be honest. They are things we all know how to do.
So what comes next after Orange Shirt Day? That’s up to you.
Federation Indigenous Advisor
Watch a Film or Documentary
Stolen Children: Residential School Survivors Tell their Stories (CBC) – Stolen Children explores the impact of residential schools on former students and their children and grandchildren. Survivors share their harrowing experiences and discuss the legacy of fear, abuse and suicide being passed down from generation to generation.
A Violation of Trust (CBC) – A searing examination of Canada’s 100 years of native residential schools, where Indigenous children had their culture and language beaten out of them, leaving a legacy of alcoholism, abuse and emotional scars.
The Secret Path (CBC) – This powerful animated film tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Ojibwa boy who died of exposure in 1966 while running away from Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ontario.
AWAKE, A Dream from Standing Rock (Netflix) – Capturing global attention, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe leads a peaceful protest against an oil pipeline threatening the drinking water of millions.
There’s Something in the Water (Netflix) – This documentary spotlights the struggle of minority communities in Nova Scotia as they fight officials over the lethal effects of industrial waste.
RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World (Crave) – Filmmaker Catherine Bainbridge examines the role of Native Americans in contemporary music history. She exposes a critical missing chapter, revealing how Indigenous musicians helped influence popular culture.
Our People Will Be Healed (Amazon Prime) – This excellent film reveals how the Cree community in Norway House, Man. has been enriched through the power of education. This documentary conveys a message of hope: that in an appropriate school environment, one that incorporates a people’s history, language and culture, Indigenous youth can change their lives.
Listen to an Indigenous Podcast
The Secret Life of Canada – a podcast about the untold and under-told history of Canada. This spirited and sometimes irreverent show highlights the people, places and stories that probably didn’t make it into your high school textbook.
Muddied Water: 1870 Homeland of the Metis? – explores the history of Métis people in Manitoba, beginning with Louis Riel who was a hero to some and a traitor to others. Host Stephanie Cram unravels the intricate history of the Métis … and follows the thread from resistance to renaissance.
Pieces – A mix of Indigenous and white heritage, Jeremy Ratt has experienced life through both vantage points – as well as the stereotypes. Join him on a journey of self-discovery as he seeks to understand his roots and all of the distinct “pieces” that form who he is today.
Red Man Laughing – this podcast will have you bursting at the seams, as comedian host Ryan McMahon, an Anishinaabe man, brings in special guests that add to his colourful episodes. The podcast is an Indigenous arts and culture podcast that directly confronts the “good, the bad and the ugly between Indian Country and the mainstream.”
All My Relations – All My Relations is a beautiful podcast, with a poetic flavour that tackles tough topics, but in a way that’s an easy listen, all while bringing Indigenous creators to the forefront of their topics. The hosts are known for their visual storytelling and passion for humanizing and celebrating Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island.