Indigenous Children Deserve More Than Pan-Indigenous Periodic Exposure to Culture


Indigenous Children Deserve More Than Pan-Indigenous Periodic Exposure to Culture

In light of the significant history of separating Indigenous children from their families and communities, resulting in widespread loss of culture and cultural alienation, it is critical for decision-makers to prioritize cultural connection and reconnection for Indigenous children. Prioritizing these vital connections and fostering the child’s Indigenous identity involves more than attending a pan-Indigenous annual event or participating in school-based activities that may or may not be specific to the child’s distinct Indigenous culture. While this level of exposure is an important part of fostering a sense of pride and dignity in an Indigenous child — a deeper and more enduring connection occurs when a child is connected to their territory/community and immersed in the presence of their parents, extended family (including non-familial), elders, and knowledge keepers.

The transmission of distinct Indigenous values, beliefs, customs, and language occurs daily and through immersion. Fostering a strong cultural identity is a way of being rather than something external that is limited to annual pan-Indigenous or periodic
exposure. Thus, when a child is residing primarily away from their Indigenous culture — it is essential that decision-makers know the distinct Indigenous community(ies) to which that child belongs and make decisions that will give that child the opportunity
to be among their people and in their territory/community to the greatest extent possible.

It is the child’s right to know and belong to their Indigenous culture and community, and practice free of discrimination, their cultural traditions, beliefs, and customs. This is well recognized in provincial, federal, and international law. Though notably and regrettably, the Family Law Act does not overtly include cultural protections under the s. 37 Best Interests of Child framework — as it was derived from a western view of what is best for children.

It can nevertheless be argued that parenting arrangements that do not, to the greatest extent possible, protect the Indigenous child’s right to their cultural identity through key cultural connections, is not in the child’s best interests because it would jeopardize that child’s psychological and emotional safety, security, and well-being. The significance of preserving an Indigenous child’s identity should be central to decision-making when determining what is best for that child, and therefore, it requires a broad and expansive approach. Decision-makers, at all levels, should inform themselves about the child’s territory/community, nation, and family and allow themselves to be guided by those knowledgeable about that child’s distinct culture.

It is well documented through reports and publications that cultural alienation and loss of culture has deleterious effects on Indigenous children — adversely affecting long-term outcomes. There are several recommendations on how to foster the Indigenous child’s cultural connections, including how to learn about and discover their culture and community when there has been a significant loss of transmission of culture due to residential schools and the child welfare system.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada — Calls to Action (2015), The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls — Calls for Justice, and the Wrapping our Ways Around Them: Indigenous Communities and Child Welfare Guidebook (updated 2021) provide the historical context and roadmap for Indigenous children to thrive. The roadmap for each child will differ depending on the circumstances but Indigenous children deserve more than pan-Indigenous periodic exposure. Decision-makers should set the standard high in terms of meeting their duties, legal and otherwise, to enable children to be immersed in their Indigenous culture. This occurs by ensuring regular and frequent contact and connection to territory/community, parents, extended family (including non-familial), elders, and knowledge keepers. Knowing these connections is where the roadmap begins.