First Nations rights advocate honoured by Nobel Initiative

The leader of a University of Alberta partnership devoted to strengthening the rights of First Nations children has received acclaim from the Nobel Women’s Initiative.

Associate professor Cindy Blackstock, head of the First Nations Children’s Action Research and Education Service  (FN CARES) in the U of A’s Faculty of Extension, was one of 16 human rights advocates profiled this month by the prestigious Nobel Women’s Initiative.

Blackstock, who joined the U of A in 2011, was recognized as part of the initiative’s 16 Days of Activism online campaign honouring the world’s leading women activists, for her tireless advocacy of ensuring justice and equality for First Nations children, youth and families in Canada.

As a researcher and a human rights advocate for First Nations, Blackstock is deeply committed to a better future for Aboriginal children—and for Canada.

“It’s about empowering people to have voice, to demand better of their society, to be active agents in defining their society,” Blackstock noted in a 2012 interview highlighting the Faculty of Extension’s 100 years of community engagement. “I want Canadians to join with me to say that racial discrimination against children is not a legitimate fiscal restraint measure and it is not in keeping with the best values of this nation and it needs to stop.”

In her 20 years of activism, Blackstock, a former child welfare worker, has challenged the Canadian government to develop solutions to address disproportionately high numbers of First Nations children who are in child welfare care. Most recently, she testified before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on First Nations child welfare. Blackstock, author of more than 60 publications, is also an expert adviser to UNICEF on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the recipient of numerous awards for her human rights work.

As part of her work, Blackstock is executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, which partners with the Faculty of Extension through FN CARES to guide and support research that addresses systemic barriers to First Nations children reaching their potential.

“The Faculty of Extension is very much about community-university engagement, and FN CARES helps embody that vision through our commitment to research driven by, and for, First Nations communities,” said Melisa Brittain, research administrator for FN CARES.

Accessing existing research done by U of A researchers and others around the globe, FN CARES is working with First Nations communities to address basic but vital structural inequities that are beyond the control of parents and that contribute to unequal treatment and lack of rights for Aboriginal children and families.

“Poverty, poor housing, under-funded education, even lack of access to safe drinking water, all play roles in the over-representation of First Nations children in care,” Brittain noted. Since forming in 2011, FN CARES has established a collaborative research team with members from Canada, the United States and Australia to share what they know about addressing poverty in Indigenous communities from various perspectives and areas of expertise.

In addition, FN CARES has developed guidelines for ethical research that respects and supports First Nations self-determination, Brittain said.

“First Nations communities are engaged as partners in research from the earliest stages of project conception to ensure their priorities and interests determine project goals, and so that research process and outcomes will benefit communities in meaningful, discernible and lasting ways.”

FN CARES also partners with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society on the First Peoples Child & Family Review, a free e-journal that focuses primarily on First Peoples and Aboriginal child welfare administration, practices, policies and research.

By Bev Betkowski, University of Alberta



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