It is the fourth time that the University of Regina has held its annual Have a Heart Day campaign, part of a nation-wide campaign to raise awareness about inequalities faced by First Nations children. The event kicked off a week of activities.
Organizers said the Canadian government has failed to take effective action following a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal hearing that found that First Nation children are funded 38% less for on-reserve services, such as healthcare and education, than the amount offered to non-First Nation services. In 2016, the tribunal ruled this is a form of racial discrimination, and ordered Ottawa to close the gap.
“The federal government is responsible to make it right, to make equal opportunities for First Nation children as for every other children in Canada, so we are doing this to spread awareness and to hold the government accountable.” said Nicole Bear, volunteer and member of Have a Heart organizing committee.
Have a Heart is an entirely youth-led campaign that calls on Canadians to come forward and stand up against the discriminatory policies of the government on First Nation reserves. Elementary schools, high schools, and universities across Canada are taking part in the week-long campaign.
The U of R organizing committee hopes that the campaign will influence the government to fully implement Jordan’s Principle.
Jordan’s Principle was established after the death of Jordan River Anderson, a five-year-old from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba. Jordan spent two years in a Winnipeg hospital and died at the age of five while the federal and the provincial government argued over which jurisdiction was responsible to pay for his homecare needs in Norway House. According to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, Jordan’s Principle, passed by parliament in 2007, “aims to make sure First Nations children can access public services ordinarily available to other Canadian children without experiencing any service denials, delays or disruptions related to their First Nations status.”
“Part of the problem is that the federal government says that there are very few children who’ve been found that they need services. They said that they found only 22 kids in Ontario,” said Sara Wysman, volunteer and member of the organizing committee. “But you look at the First Nations community in Ontario that had two girls commit suicide that applied for the funding but were denied.”
Members of the Have a Heart campaign have written letters asking the Canadian government to provide equal services for First Nation communities. To date, U of R students have sent the most letters to parliament.
Organizing the campaign is difficult especially with only few volunteers, however for lead volunteer, Mikayla Missed, it really comes down to priorities. “This is the one volunteer opportunity I will always say ‘yes’ to. Everything else, if school pops up, I put aside until I can get to it. This one will always be priority,” she said.
There are activities held throughout the week including, letter writing, Cultural Creativity crafts, and Bring Your Teddy. The campaign will continue until February 14.