May 10th – Bear Witness Day: A step towards reconciliation

Today is Bear Witness Day, a day to reflect on the chronic and discriminatory underfunding of First Nations children’s services in their communities. On this day, the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society uses Spirit Bear to create awareness around Jordan’s Principle in hopes of achieving equity for First Nations children.

The history of Bear Witness Day

The federal government funds public services for First Nations children and families living on reserves and in the Territories. Since confederation, these services have continued to fall significantly short of the level of care that most Canadians receive.

The tribunal case & Spirit Bear

In 2006, the First Nation Child and Family Caring Society, under the leadership of Dr. Cindy Blackstock, brought the issue to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT). They spent years arguing their case against the government, exposing a long history of the neglectful treatment of First Nation communities.

Spirit Bear was created in 2008, and acts as a symbol for the 165,000 First Nations children impacted by the child welfare case at the CHRT. Spirit Bear was brought to every tribunal hearing since its creation to represent all the children affected by the case. The Spirit Bear Plan was developed, composed of five main points to hold Canada, Parliament, government, government departments and all public servants accountable to help end inequalities in public services for First Nations children, youth and families in Canada.

The importance of Jordan’s Principle

Jordan’s Principle was central to the Caring Society’s legal dispute. The principle is derived from Jordan River Anderson, a young boy from the Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba. Jordan was born with severe medical complications and was hospitalized at Winnipeg Hospital. After a year of care, the provincial and federal governments couldn’t agree who would pay for his care in the community, there he was held in hospital for 2 additional years unnecessarily. Jordan died at age 5, still in hospital, having never lived in the family home. Jordan’s Principle requires governments to put children first and ensure that all First Nations children can access public services when and where they need them.

The importance of May 10th

After 10 years at the Tribunal, using the powerful case of Jordan River Anderson and a history of racism as evidence, the Caring Society was finally successful in proving that discrimination existed, and the federal government was ordered to make things right. The first of several compliance orders was issued by the CHRT on May 10th, 2016.

Though the government was ordered to comply, they have yet to truly improve children’s’ services in many First Nations communities across Canada. Therefore, it was decided that May 10th would be commemorated as Bear Witness Day, chosen to both honour the day the compliance orders were issued, and to act as the symbolic birthday of Spirit Bear.

How can I show my support?  

  • Learn more about Jordan’s Principle, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the good work that they do.
  • Sign up to support Jordan’s Principle or Spirit Bear and the Spirit Bear Plan campaigns.
  • “Bear Witness” to Jordan’s Principle by bringing your bears to daycare, school or work on May 10th. Don’t forget to tweet and post your photos using the hashtags #BearWitnessDay and #JordansPrinciple.
  • Host a “Bear Party,” coffee break or lunch and learn to educate yourself, and others, of the need to stand with Indigenous children in their long struggle against racism and discrimination. You can download the Bear Witness Day cards to hand out at your event.

Don’t let this, or any government get away with treating Indigenous children as if they were somehow less important. It is a necessary step towards reconciliation.

May 10, 2019