By Susan Hickman
The latest issue of the Canadian Journal of Children’s Rights produced by Carleton University, a peer-reviewed journal that supports the work of children’s rights scholars, is devoted to Indigenous children.
The theme follows the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s revelations last year about the residential school system for Aboriginal children, explains managing editor Virginia Caputo, director of Carleton’s Landon Pearson Resource Centre for the Study of Childhood and Children’s Rights and an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
“Despite all the efforts to highlight the plight of Aboriginal children,” says Caputo, “Indigenous children in Canada continue to live in poverty and at a higher rate than non-Indigenous children, continue to attend school at lower rates, continue to be denied access to safe and affordable housing, continue to experience high rates of suicide, and continue to encounter a continuum of violence in their lives.”
This third issue of the journal was formally released on Nov. 24, 2016 at a National Child Day event on campus attended by Landon Pearson and many journal contributors.
Caputo talked about the new issue with some 60 attendees, who also celebrated the 10th year anniversary of the Pearson Centre and the 25th anniversary of Canada’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Landon Pearson Centre was established in 2006 to promote the rights of children and youth. Its namesake is a long-time advocate for children’s rights, and a former senator and adviser on children’s rights to the federal government. After retiring 10 years ago, Pearson moved all her documents and papers to Carleton.
“It’s up to us as adults to help you exercise your rights,” Pearson told children attending the event. “Children’s rights and climate change are probably the greatest threat to children today. We have some great work to do, and you young people are going to have to find the long-term solutions.”
The main feature in the journal is a memoir by residential school survivor Russell Moses, including reflections from his son, John. The younger Moses told the gathering that the residential school experience looms large in his family, going back three generations to his great grandfather, who attended the Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School in Brantford in the 1880s, when it focused on training First Nations children as Indigenous Anglican missionaries and teachers. His father Russell attended from 1942 to 1947, “by which time any pretence toward providing education or training had been abandoned: the Indigenous children were there to provide the forced agricultural labour necessary to keep the large farm operation going, as a contribution to the civilian food production effort on the Canadian home front during wartime.”
In spite of his father’s childhood abuse and trauma at the residential school, he refused to be defined by the experience, said Moses. “My father was a decorated naval veteran of the Korean War, an air force veteran of the Cold War, an accomplished public servant and . . . a loving husband, father, grandfather, father-in-law and uncle.”
The publication includes articles by leading advocates and activists in Canada, including Cindy Blackstock, whose 2007 complaint against the Canadian government on behalf of Indigenous children led to a landmark Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that underfunding of child and family services on first Nations reserves is discriminatory.
Other attendees included Margo Greenwood, well-known for her work on behalf of Indigenous people through the National Collaborating Centre on Aboriginal Health in British Columbia; and Judy Finlay, who works with youth in northern communities.
Pearson contributed a discussion about two model preschool programs that take a rights-based approach in working with Indigenous children and their families.
As well, there were three submissions by elementary school children, including a group from the local Featherston Drive Public School, who read a letter at the Nov. 24 event that they had written in support of First Nations children.
“We think that no one should be left behind,” they wrote.
“Their perspectives are the ones that are compelling and will move us forward,” Caputo said of the children’s voices.