First Nations leaders support call for legislated end to child poverty

Lindsay Kines, Times Colonist

B.C.’s top aboriginal leaders are backing calls for a legislated plan to end child poverty.

In an open letter to Premier Gordon Campbell, the leaders urge government action on a non-partisan plan led by independent representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

The plan should include legislation aimed at ending child poverty and set measurable targets, leaders of the First Nations Summit, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations say.

“Vulnerable families, in particular aboriginal families, in British Columbia continue to face chronic deep, and grinding poverty and inadequate housing, which desperately requires a concrete plan of effective action with the full participation of our provincial government.”

The leaders, who work together as the First Nations Leadership Council, issued the letter in response to Turpel-Lafond’s report on 21 infant deaths.

The report, Fragile Lives, Fragmented Systems, concluded that B.C.’s high poverty rate and patchwork system of supports for families put vulnerable children -particularly aboriginal children -at risk of an early death.

“The mortality rate for status Indian infants in B.C. is twice that of non-aboriginal infants,” the leadership council says. “These deaths are not statistics to us; they are the painful and unacceptable reality of our world.”…

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs discounted de Jong’s argument yesterday.

“It’s only through legislative reform that we actually see progress and, more importantly, compel government towards concrete targets,” Phillip, one of the signatories to the council’s open letter, said in an interview.

“Governments are reluctant to legislate standards and targets and a legislated commitment to reducing the level of child poverty because that means they have to show results.”

Grand Chief Edward John of the First Nations Summit commended Abbott. But John said whoever becomes leader needs to tackle the issue.

“I don’t think there’s only one simple solution to it, but if you can measure it, then you can start dealing with it,” he said.