Romita Sur from the Women of Colour Collective of McGill Law and Katerina Lagasse from the Indigenous Law Association submitted a proposal on a panel around the Systemic Discrimination Against Indigenous Children: Reflections on Ongoing Issues within Canada and the United States to the 2018 Rebellious Lawyering Conference at Yale Law School. Reblaw is the biggest public interest conference in the North America and the WOCC/ILADA panel was the only one to be accepted from Canada this year.
Description of Panel
The purpose of the session, Systemic Discrimination Against Indigenous Children : Reflections on Ongoing Issues within Canada and the United States, is to draw attention and awareness and failures of governments to treat Indigenous children with the equity they deserve. The session will demonstrate the multivalent forms of lawyering and advocacy that is required in promoting the respect for children’s rights both in the Canadian and U.S. context. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling (2016) found that the Canadian government is racially discriminating against 163,000 First Nations children and their families by providing inequitable child welfare services. The Canadian government continues to fail to comply with the ruling. The case required a multidisciplinary litigation strategy which involved the presence and participation of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children in the hearings, lawyers, social workers, law students and advocates. In both countries, legal changes within the systems dealing with children have stemmed from civil society and powerful community voices that have fought for the rights of children. With the knowledge from this session, law students, legal professionals, and community organizations can understand how to mobilize around issues affecting children and the importance of dealing with them in a timely manner. As stated by Attorney Angel Smith, “the longer the case, the less of a childhood the child will have.”
These panelists are all in the best position to discuss the best interest of Indigenous children. They have all been advocates for the rights of children through their work - whether that be through documentary film, social work, or litigation.
Alanis Obomsawin, a member of the Abenaki Nation, is one of Canada's most distinguished documentary filmmakers. She began her career as a singer, writer and storyteller, but dove into filmmaking in 1967 with Christmas at Moose Factory, which she wrote and directed. Since then, she has made over 30 uncompromising documentaries on issues affecting Aboriginal people in Canada. For almost 40 years, she has directed documentaries at the National Film Board (NFB) with strong social content, inspired by the desire to let the voices of her people be heard.
Angel Smith is a sixth generation registered tribal citizen of the Cherokee Nation, with direct line to the historic removal of her family from Old Cherokee Nation to Delaware and Tahlequah Districts. Her family links remain in Delaware, Saline and Tahlequah Districts. A link directly protected by the Indian Child Welfare Act. As a child, Angel Smith spent approximately ten years in the center of two ICWA cases. Angel was the child at the heart of a five-year legal case regarding application of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Her case went on writ to the Supreme Court of Oklahoma (unpublished opinion). As a teenager, she was in a ICWA kinship foster care placement with her grandparents. She was previously an Assistant Attorney General at Cherokee Nation and Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and presently serves a Supreme Court Justice for Pawnee Nation. As an adult, she is best known for her dedicated and outspoken professional and personal work to advocate on behalf of Indian children. She is currently in private practice as an attorney focusing on ICWA, and works across the world advocating the rights of Indian and First Nation children. Angel is happily married with children of her own.
Cindy Blackstock is a member of the Gitksan First Nation with 25 years of social work experience in child protection and indigenous children’s rights. Dr. Blackstock’s research interests are indigenous theory and the identification & remediation of structural inequalities affecting First Nations children, youth & families. She is an author of over 50 publications & a widely sought after public speaker, Dr. Blackstock has collaborated with other Indigenous leaders to assist the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in the development and adoption of a General Comment on the Rights of Indigenous children. Recently, she also worked with Indigenous young people, UNICEF & the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to produce a youth friendly version of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child. Her promotion of culturally based & evidence informed solutions has been recognized by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, the Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, Frontline Defenders and many others.
Matthew L.M. Fletcher is Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law and Director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center. He sits as the Chief Justice of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Supreme Court and also sits as an appellate judge for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Hoopa Valley Tribe, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians, and the Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska. He is a member of the Grand Traverse Band, located in Peshawbestown, Michigan. He has worked as a staff attorney for four Indian Tribes – the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the Hoopa Valley Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe, and the Grand Traverse Band He previously sat on the judiciaries of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians; and served as a consultant to the Seneca Nation of Indians Court of Appeals.
Photo Credits: Romita Sur