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Gearing Up

Supporting Indigenous Children and Families in Ontario

First Nations, Mètis and Inuit children and families in Ontario face unique challenges due to the trauma caused by colonialism. Government policies disrupted cultural practices and family relationships, and have resulted in deep-seated structural and systemic inequities. The impacts of these inequities can be seen in poor health and social outcomes experienced by many Indigenous children and families in Ontario.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report demonstrated the immense and prolonged impact that the residential school system has had on Indigenous people.32 We recognize that this system was a manifestation of policies and programs driven by colonialism and racism,33 and that its impacts on the wellbeing of First Nations, Mètis and Inuit children in Ontario are lasting.

All young people need to know who they are and from where they come. Aboriginal children and youth, searching for their own identities and places of belonging, need to know and take pride in their Indigenous roots. They need to know the answers to some very basic questions. Who are my people? What is our history? How are we unique? Where do I belong?
—Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, 2015

The tragedy of the colonial legacy is that “too many children are not growing up well in all the domains of healthy development, too many are removed from their families, and too many are not getting the opportunities they deserve to reach their full potential.” (Chiefs of Ontario)34

Many First Nations, Mètis and Inuit children, families and communities are facing real challenges – poverty, lack of access to safe water and housing, high rates of youth suicide, barriers to good nutrition and health, and over-representation in the child welfare and justice systems.

We also know that these communities across Ontario are places of hope, strength, wisdom and care for children and families. Families and communities are drawing on multigenerational knowledge about wellbeing and practising “everyday good living” by striving to balance all aspects of life: the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.35

It is crucial for the wellbeing of Indigenous children, families and communities to preserve and promote the culture and identity of Indigenous children.

To support healing and reconciliation, Gearing Up includes a dedicated section for ways to support First Nations, Mètis and Inuit children, families and communities to thrive

Ontario Indigenous Children and Youth Strategy

Gearing Up builds on the vision, principles and pillars established within the Ontario Indigenous Children and Youth Strategy (OICYS).

Vision

Guiding Principles

First Nations, Mètis, Inuit and urban Indigenous children and youth are healthy, happy, resilient, grounded in their cultures and languages and thriving as individuals and as members of their families and Nations or communities.

Children and youth centred

Culture and identity as foundational

Respect rights and jurisdictional aspirations

Co-development and partnership

Outcomes focus

Responsive to youth voice

Flexibility

Shared accountability

Reconciliation (acknowledge the past, act now and look to the future)

Pillars

First Nations Jurisdiction and Control / Mètis, Inuit and Urban Indigenous Control

First Nations, Mètis, Inuit and urban Indigenous communities and organizations have authority to care for their children and youth.

Prevention, Culture and Opportunities

First Nations, Mètis, Inuit and urban Indigenous children and youth have access to preventive services focused on well-being, culture and opportunities.

Coordinated and Responsive Circle of Care

The child and youth service workforce is equipped to provide high quality, integrated and culturally appropriate services.

Monitoring, Evaluation and Shared Accountability

Progress is tracked through culturally and contextually appropriate monitoring and evaluation approaches.

Transformed Relationships and Collaborative, Holistic Action

Systemic change through collaborative action and transformed relationships with First Nations, Mètis, Inuit and urban Indigenous partners.

The OICYS is a long-term strategic framework approved through co-development in 2015 by the Government of Ontario and First Nations, Mètis, Inuit and urban Indigenous partners across Ontario.

Central to the OICYS is a commitment to fundamental structural changes, beyond improvements to individual programs or services, that allow Indigenous communities to take the lead in the care of their children, and that enable the delivery of wholistic and culturally grounded services. A core pillar of the OICYS is systemic change through collaborative action and transformed relationships with First Nations, Mètis, Inuit and urban Indigenous partners.

Aboriginal people and organizations must design, deliver and evaluate services for our people, and this must be facilitated through mechanisms that are cooperative and collaborative.
—Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, Ontario Native Women’s Association, and the Mètis Nation of Ontario Collaborative Submission Regarding a Provincial Indigenous Children & Youth Strategy

Gearing Up upholds the pillars of the OICYS and recognizes and respects the cultures and worldviews of Indigenous people, as well as Indigenous approaches to raising children. It recognizes that to support improved outcomes for Indigenous children and families requires a transformation in the way that services are governed, designed, delivered and evaluated.

Supporting Indigenous children to thrive

In response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report and recommended actions, the Ontario government is moving ahead in supporting reconciliation, transformed relationships and improved outcomes for Indigenous children and families.

Identifying distinct Indigenous goals and outcomes in the Ontario Middle Years Strategy is meant to acknowledge the distinct rights and responsibilities that Ontario has towards Indigenous peoples and their communities, and to recognize the impact of colonialism and the need for governments to come together to support reconciliation.

Ontario worked collaboratively with First Nations, Mètis, Inuit and urban Indigenous partners to develop this specific section of Gearing Up. The priority outcomes outlined in Gearing Up are based on the OICYS outcomes, co-developed with Indigenous partners. The ways to support outcomes for First Nations, Mètis and Inuit children and families was informed through discussions and papers submitted by partners, as well as other expert research.

The other six goals and 18 outcomes outlined in Gearing Up are also relevant to supporting Indigenous child and family wellbeing.

It is important to continue rebuilding Indigenous cultures; the future generation of Indigenous youth depends on it. Being able to self-identify as an Indigenous person is a powerful feeling.
—Indigenous youth engaged in the development of Ontario Indigenous Children and Youth Strategy

Many First Nations in Ontario have experienced first-hand that our people have better wellbeing when they feel their voices are heard, when they have meaningful control over their own futures, and when they spend time on the land and keep connected to who they are. Many First Nations wish to pursue both Western and traditional approaches to health, education and overall wellbeing. Both approaches can be complementary, and in today’s world, both are often absolutely essential for achieving successful, effective services that meet the real needs of First Nations children, youth and families.
—Chiefs of Ontario36