By Lloyd Dolha
The Chiefs of Ontario are calling on the McGuinty government to reverse substantial cuts that have caused a budget crisis among First Nations child welfare agencies. A few months ago, the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth cut funding to child welfare agencies by approximately $23 million; nearly $4.25 million was taken away from four Aboriginal child welfare agencies. “When one considers the challenges that First Nations children and youth are experiencing in many of our communities, this situation clearly does not make sense,” said Ontario Regional chief Angus Toulouse. “The reality is that these cuts translate into cutting back services for vulnerable children and families that truly need the support, while the government has squandered millions with little to no accountability in other areas.”
In the Ontario legislature, NDP leader Andrea Horvath called on Premier McGuinty to place a moratorium on these budget cuts. “There is a real crisis facing Ontario’s Native children and youth, but this government is shamefully reducing the resources that serve these vulnerable and disadvantaged young people,” said Horavth. Horvath said Tikinagan Child and Family Services lost $2.1 million, Paayyukotatno James Bay Family Services lost $1 million, and Weechittewin Family Services lost $941,522. She also criticized the government’s failure to support a key group, the Association of Child and Family Service Associations of Ontario, which was on the brink of closing in the first week of October.
“New Democrats are not prepared to stand by while vulnerable First Nations communities and children are abandoned by this government,” Horvath added. “Adequately funding First Nations child welfare services is an obligation that must transcend jurisdictional squabbles between the provincial Liberals and federal Conservatives.” Horvath pointed out that social problems such as substance abuse, family violence, sexual abuse, and youth suicide are much more prevalent among First Nations, and as such, more resources—not fewer—must be devoted to First Nations child welfare. According to a 2006 report from the Kenora Crown Attorney’s Office, the youth suicide rate in northwestern Ontario is 398 out of every 100,000, while the national average is barely 13.
Grand Chief Randall Phillips, holder of the child welfare portfolio of the Chiefs of Ontario and Grand Chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Nations, said that funding for First Nations agencies was already inadequate and the new cuts were “incomprehensible.” Phillips said First Nations leadership in Ontario would not sit quietly while vulnerable and marginalized Aboriginal children become victimized again. “Children and youth in our communities are in crisis,” said Chief Phillips. “Enough is enough. How can the government justify cutting funding to where it is badly required? Our leadership is very disturbed by this and are considering our options to ensure this funding is restored as quickly as possible.” Chief Toulouse agreed the situation is unacceptable. “The First Nations leadership of Ontario are calling on the government of Ontario, and Premier McGuinty, to reverse these cuts as soon as possible,” he said.