Cindy Blackstock: Kids before anything
As part of Women’s History Month, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is presenting snapshots of women in our community and the significant impact they have had in their fields.
“If you tried to take away her dignity, it was impossible. If you tried to ridicule her, it was impossible. I’ve never met anyone like that. ”
—Alanis Obomsawin, 2009 Mentor
A tireless advocate for the rights of Indigenous children and their families, Cindy Blackstock has shown relentless commitment to her cause.
Dr. Cindy Blackstock grew up in northern British Columbia surrounded by huckleberry fields. As a member of the Gitxsan First Nation, she experienced the consequences of racism against Indigenous peoples throughout her childhood. “You were expected to grow up and become drunk and lazy,”she says about the prejudice she witnessed. She became determined to study at the University of British Columbia, where she graduated and became a social worker in the Vancouver area at the age of 21.
In her work, Blackstock noted a disproportionate number of Indigenous families in need of child welfare services. “On the reserves, even the most fundamental things just were not there” she recounted in an interview on CBC in September 2019. Faced with the urgency of the situation, she hoped that someone would take charge of the situation. “I was convinced I was unqualified to do something.” Eventually, the problem was too big to ignore, and she had to make a difference for the next generation of children.
In 1999, Cindy Blackstock helped found the First Nations Caring Society, an organization that ensures Indigenous children and families receive the services they need to grow up safely. In 2007, with the assistance of the Assembly of First Nations, she filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal against the government regarding the application of Jordan’s Principle.
- Cindy Blackstock on the inequalities between children on CBC Radio.
Nine years later a landmark verdict was rendered on January 26, 2016, with the Tribunal ordering the government to implement Jordan’s Principle in a non-discriminatory manner. Since then, more than seven Tribunal orders have been sent to the government to force it to change its practices. “No one has come up with a comprehensible plan to address all these inequalities, so it is a drip by drip, program by program, and kids are suffering. And that needs to stop.”
Cindy Blackstock became a mentor to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation in 2012. She holds fellowships from the Ashoka Foundation and the JW McConnell Family Foundation, and has received numerous awards and honours, including a National Aboriginal Achievement Award. To this day, she continues her work for children with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.