Hansel and Gretel know it. The right to have a home, the right to have a family, is a right every child has. Without a family or a home often a child grows sick in spirit, falters and never flourishes as a human being.
Yet a home, a family, these simple-but-necessary things are often denied to Aboriginal children.
Of course, the Federal government—hand in hand with the Christian churches—began by stealing the children and placing them in Indian residential schools. For eight years of schooling, for most of a childhood, for ten months out of every year, the children were absent from home. Beyond love or voice or sight. Children, parents and home became strangers to one another.
And sometimes in the schools, brothers and sisters were separated from each other as well. When parents are gone, sometimes a child can sustain herself or himself by clinging to a sibling. Hansel and Gretel had each other. But separated the children lost their languages faster.
Sorry, Hansel, said the nun in her dark robes, you can’t speak to Gretel.
The loss of language had consequences later when these children came home to their communities. Sometimes the grandparents could only speak their native tongues, and the children could only speak English. Grandparents and grandchildren could not speak to each other. How much love failed to pass that language barrier?
Then, when the Federal government started to close down the residential schools in the 1960s, provincial child welfare agencies moved in to become the primary way that Aboriginal children were taken from their parents.
In foster care, brothers and sisters are almost inevitably separated. The authorities like to wring their hands about it. They like to shrug their shoulders and say oh my! to their helplessness. But they do it anyway, no matter all their pious preferences. Hansel goes in the gingerbread house, Gretel in the marzipan. Sorry.
Thus with foster care, Aboriginal children not only lose their parents, but their brothers and sisters too.
Bring out the hand-wringing machine.
Aboriginal children are ten times more likely to be removed from their families than non-Aboriginal children. The wicked stepmother likes them especially. Smiles and takes them by the hundreds.
And removing Aboriginal children from their families is as destructive to them as any other form of child abuse—the statistics are very clear on this.
One survey of a federal penitentiary (people serving serious sentences of two years or longer) found that 95% of the Aboriginal inmates were wards of the state when they were children.
If you think of the state as the parent to Aboriginal children, those penitentiary statistics—and countless other statistics just like them—indicate parenting skills worthy of a wicked witch in a gingerbread house.
Aboriginal children would be better off if the state stopped trying to protect them altogether.
By any possible measurement, the state—meaning the government of Canada, meaning the governments of the provinces—was, is and remains Canada’s worst abuser of Aboriginal children.