Speaking notes on the occasion of the vote in the House of Commons on the Private Member’s Motion in Support of Jordan’s Principle
News Conference: December 12, 2007
House of Commons, Ottawa
I would like thank Jordan’s father, Ernest Anderson, and his older sister, Jerlene Anderson, who are present here today as well as the rest of the Anderson family for sharing Jordan’s inspirational story and message with the world.The most important thing Canadians need to know about Jordan River Anderson is that he is loved and treasured by his parents, brothers and sisters, extended family and his community – Norway House Cree Nation. His uncle named Jordan after the beautiful Oscar Hammerstein song “Ol Man River” that goes Show me dat stream called de river Jordan, Dat’s de ol’ stream dat I long to cross. As you will come to know – there could be no more fitting name -as this young boy would cross many rivers of equality and fairness in his short life – and hold the hands of governments as they learned to cross too.
Jordan loved Teddy Bears and his room was lined with them – in all shapes, colours and textures. He also got to touch the Stanley Cup – for real!
The other thing Canadians need to know is that Jordan spent over two years unnecessarily in hospital because the federal and provincial governments do not agree on who should pay for government services to status Indian children – services that are provided to other Canadian children without question.
Jordan was born with complex medical needs and because the federal and provincial governments provide so few services to support families with special needs children on reserve– Jordan had to be put in foster care. In a government policy that baffles common sense – the federal government will pay foster parents to look after First Nations children with special needs without question but will not provide the support for the child’s own family to care for them at home –even when there is no abuse or neglect.
Jordan spent the first two years of life in hospital while his medical condition stabalized. During this time, Jordan’s family and community dreamed of the day that doctors would say Jordan could go to a family home and they worked to make that a reality. Kinisao Sipi Minosowin found a loving specialized foster home for Jordan and the Norway House leaders such as former Chief Ron Evans and Councilor Mike Muswagon raised money to refit a van so Jordan could go to cultural gatherings, familly visits and medical appointments. Just after Jordan’s second birthday the day they all dreamed of happened – doctors said Jordan was well enough to go home. Everyone agreed that everything was in place for Jordan’s at home care and then the province and federal government began to argue over who should pay as Jordan was a status Indian child. If Jordan was non Aboriginal – the province would have picked up the cost for his at home care and he would have gone to a family home.
Sadly for Jordan, provincial and federal government officials decided Jordan should stay in hospital while they argued over expenses related to his at home care. Days turned into weeks – weeks turned into months and months turned into years – and governments kept arguing as Jordan watched the seasons change outside of his hospital window.
Jordan saw children come to the hospital, get better and go home but for him – the story was different – he came to hospital, got better and then government red tape kept him from going home. Caring staff at the Children’s Hospital in Winnipeg became worried that Jordan was growing up in a hospital when it was medically unnecessary and joined with a dedicated circle of First Nations advocates to get the federal or provincial government to pay for Jordan’s care and figure out the payment dispute later – but to no avail. Jordan passed away in hospital at the age of 5 never having spent a day in a family home.
No matter how sick Jordan was – his joyful spirit shined brightly filling the hearts of all who loved him and many who were inspired by him. I came to hear Jordan’s story in 2004 from a courageous and dedicated First Nations child advocate, Trudy Lavallee of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and my life has not been the same since – Jordan simply inspires all of us to do whatever we can to make sure no child ever comes second again.
Sadly Jordan’s case is not an isolated one; research has repeatedly shown that hundreds of First Nations children are caught in payment disputes within, or between, the federal and provincial goverments each year. And as you will hear from Councillor Mike Muswagon later – there are 37 families in Norway House today whose children are being denied government services available to other Canadians because governments can not agree on who should pay. And this is just one of the over 600 First Nations communities in Canada
With the loving support of Jordan’s family and community, a child first principle to resolving jurisdictional disputes was created called Jordan’s Principle. It is a simple and just concept – requiring the provincial and federal governments to pay for the government services the child needs first and figure out the jurisdictional dispute later. Over 1000 Canadians and organizations have expressed their support for this solution – it embodies the best of our national traditions of equality, fairness and good government and if it were in place when Jordan was alive he would have spent at least two years in a loving family home.
There are times in the history of all great countries when the moral temperature of the Nation is taken. For Canada, and particularly its leaders, today is one of those times. The page in Canadian history where children are denied services on the basis of race should have been turned a century ago but it is before us all now – And the children of the world are watching to see what we will do. Great leaders will understand that it does not take a committee to see discrimination and committees should not delay us from doing the right and moral thing as a nation when it comes to ending discrimination against children.
The good done today in Jordan’s memory will not end the discrimination faced by countless numbers of First Nations children unless the Prime Minister takes the courageous and necessary step of declaring that the Government of Canada will fully implement Jordan’s Principle today. And if he does, the families here from Norway House and many others across Canada could go to sleep tonight without the worry that their children will be denied life wellness and life saving government services because of red tape. There could be no greater Christmas gift – no greater Canadian gift that the Prime Minister could give to Canada’s First Nations children than to fully implement Jordan’s Principle today – let’s hope he makes a difference – because he can.
And as for the Premieres of the provinces and territories – none of whom have adopted or implemented Jordan’s Principle – take hold of Jordan’s hand, be inspired by his spirit and cross the river to equal treatment for First Nations children. Follow in his sacred footsteps and be the moral leaders this noble nation and its children need.
In loving Memory of Jordan River Anderson – the Founder of Jordan’s Principle
Show me dat stream called de river Jordan, Dat’s de ol’ stream dat I long to cross
First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada