The Canadian Government has reached a $31.5 billion settlement to compensate Indigenous people harmed in their discriminatory welfare system.

In what is being labelled as the largest settlement in Canada’s history, the money will go towards the children who were unnecessarily removed over the past three decades, as well as their families and caregivers.

Half of the overall settlement, of $40 billion CAD will go towards restoring the child welfare system for First Nations children, who are removed from their families at a higher rate than the general population.

According to 2016 census data, about 8 percent of children under 14 in Canada are Indigenous, and make up more than 52 percent of children in foster care.

Manitoba regional chief at the Assembly of First Nations, Cindy Woodhouse said “First Nations from across Canada have had to work very hard for this day to provide redress for monumental wrongs against First Nation children, wrongs fueled by an inherently biased system.”

“Canada could have settled this case for hundreds of millions of dollars back in 2000, when we raised the alarm that … families were being separated unnecessarily,” she said.

“But Canada chose not to do that.”

“And now we’re into the tens of billions of dollars, and most importantly, children have lost their lives and sometimes their childhoods in the process.”

The dispute has been ongoing for almost 15 years and includes a human rights complaint and several class-action lawsuits, after several Indigenous advocacy groups claimed the federal government’s “inequitable and insufficient” funding of child welfare services on First Nations reserves was discriminatory.

In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal agreed with the advocates, and in 2019 ordered the federal government to pay about $31,000 CAD to each child who was removed from their home since 2006.

The Tribunal said in its decision that “it is only because of their race and/or national or ethnic origin that they suffer the adverse impacts, furthermore, these adverse impacts perpetuate the historical disadvantage and trauma suffered by Aboriginal people.”

Canada’s Crown-Indigenous relations minister said although this is a large settlement “no amount of money can reverse the harms experienced by First Nations children.

“Historic injustices require historic reparations,” he said.

Final details are still to be settled between the government and Indigenous advocates, where a final agreement will be submitted to a federal court and human rights tribunal for approval.

By Teisha Cloos