Eleven-year-old Kendra Levi-Paul is demanding that First Nation youth no longer be forgotten – and on Feb. 13 she’s taking her message to the Legislative Assembly.
The Alaqsite’w Gitpu School sixth grader is traveling to Fredericton from Listiguj First Nation, which is located on the New Brunswick/Quebec border near Campbellton, to speak at a rally as part of national Have a Heart Day activities. Have a Heart Day is a youth-led reconciliation event that brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians to raise awareness of the inequities in the education, health and child welfare services for First Nations children living on reserves.
“It’s a chance for the government to not just apologize but for them to know that we’re here,” says Levi-Paul. “Sometimes they treat us like we’re invisible.”
Indigenous children under the age of 14 make up just under 8 per cent of that age group across Canada. However they represent over 50 per cent of all children under age 14 in care.
On Feb. 1, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced the federal government would fully fund the actual costs of providing child welfare services to children and families living on reserve following an emergency meeting in late January with First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders to address the issue. The funding is retroactive to Jan. 26, 2016.
Levi-Paul is Mi’kmaw and her parents come from Elsipogtog and Tobique First Nations and she’s asking for the public’s help in reminding the federal and provincial governments that First Nations children are still treated unfairly.
Levi-Paul is hoping other students and their parents will join her on Feb. 13 at 2 p.m. at the Legislative Assembly.
“Come on we can do this,” she says, offering examples of how New Brunswick students and adults can show their support for First Nation children. “They can come to the event, they can send messages, they can announce their feelings and what they think. They could talk to their parents or talk to their parents about it.”
Have a Heart Day was started by the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada, which was created in 1998 to provide research and professional development support to address inequities in the child welfare system serving First Nations children. It hosts the Jordan’s Principle campaign. This year there are events planned across Canada, including a rally on Parliament Hill. In addition to attending the New Brunswick event at Legislative Assembly, Levi-Paul says people can send Valentine’s Day cards to their local MPs or the prime minister.
Have a Heart Day activities are in support of Jordan’s Principle, which seeks to ensure First Nations children receive equal access to social services available to other Canadian children. It is named in honour of Jordan River Anderson, a child with complex needs from Norway House, Manitoba who died in hospital at five years of age following a years-long jurisdictional dispute between federal and provincial governments over who would pay for his at-home care.
Jordan’s Principle passed unanimously in the federal House of Commons in 2007 but to date its adoption has been inconsistent across provinces and territories. In New Brunswick, a 2011 tripartite agreement between First Nations, the provincial and federal governments, includes health care, child welfare, special education and other social services. First Nations children in New Brunswick can access services through the Child-First Initiative.