Jane Philpott has her work cut out for her. But, Tim Harper writes, she's determined to get it done:
The federal Indigenous services minister has ambitious plans when it comes to ending water quality advisories in First Nations communities, closing the gap on Indigenous child welfare spending and reducing what she calls an “abhorrent” number of Indigenous children living in foster care.
One thing not on her list for the coming year is hearing the word “no” from anyone in her department’s bureaucracy.
Unclean water on native land is a perennial problem. Philpott is determined to put an end to that problem:
As we spoke this week, Philpott sat at a desk with six multi-colour-coded spread sheets in front of her, detailing all 68 long-term drinking water advisories in communities directly funded by her department, with the dates the order went into effect, timelines for ending them and potential barriers in the way.
There are a total of 100 such advisories in First Nations communities including privately operated systems.
Also on Philpott's desk is reform of the child welfare system:
She has called the rate of Indigenous child apprehension a humanitarian disaster. Indigenous children 14 and under make up 7.7 per cent of all children in this country, according to the 2016 census. But they represent 52 per cent of children in foster care.
In Manitoba the rate can be as high as 90 per cent, but the rate is anywhere from 60 to 80 per cent across western Canada.
“It is positively abhorrent. There is clearly something very wrong,’’ Philpott told me.
And she is determined to improve First Nations schools:
A push to have First Nations control First Nations education is showing promise.
But it is also up to Philpott to light a spark in a bureaucracy that has for years worked to thwart Indigenous progress, launching court challenges and slowing programs in the name of protecting the taxpayer.
Bureaucracies are not monolithic, as Philpott points out. They are composed of people who care and understand 150 years of injustices.
They smile, she says, when they are told to find a way to deliver a “yes,” instead of falling back on an automatic “no.”
Philpott has worked as a doctor in third world countries. She knows that conditions on Canada's reserves are third world conditions. And she knows how to get things done.
Image: The Toronto Star