Cindy Blackstock is about to add another doctorate to her collection — this one from Laurentian University in Sudbury.
Despite already holding nearly 20 of the honours from universities across the country, Blackstock, a well-known figure in Canadian human rights, says it’s a “great honour to work with people, particularly in northern Ontario, on the children’s equity issue.”
For more than 25 years, Blackstock has been fighting for the rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, taking the federal government to court and before tribunals, demanding what she calls “equity.”
“It’s really about getting First Nations kids the equitable services that they’ve been denied since Confederation,” she said.
“A lot of people don’t understand that the federal government funds public services on reserve, whereas the provinces and territories fund it for all others. And since Confederation, the Canadian government has underfunded every public service on reserve.”
Blackstock’s background is in social work, and she’s now executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society — an organization she co-founded— as well as a professor at McGill University in Montreal.
She says the kids she fights for not only receive significantly fewer services than other children in Canada, they’re more likely to be taken from their families and put into foster care and their lives are more likely to be defined by what she sees as institutionalized or “structural” racism.
“So just imagine if, you know, in this election, there was a candidate who said, ‘Kids who have blue eyes are going to get 30 to 50 per cent less water and 30 to 50 per cent less education funding’… and yet that’s exactly what’s happening with First Nations kids.”
She continued, “This has been so normalized in Canada that I think many people are just starting to awaken to the fact that this is happening.”
In a press release, Laurentian University calls Blackstock a “Gitxsan trailblazer,” and says “she has won hard-fought human rights tribunal cases which have resulted in hundreds of thousands of services being provided to Indigenous children.”
Blackstock says for her, she’ll consider her efforts completely successful when “First Nations kids don’t have to spend their childhoods fighting for equality, and that non-Indigenous kids never have to say they’re sorry again for not having done enough, or not done anything [at all].”