The First Nations Children’s Action Research and Education Service (FNCARES), the collaboration between the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society and the UAlberta Faculty of Education, has released its 2019-20 annual report. And while the report highlights a number of new resources, including learning guides, children’s books and a forthcoming movie featuring Spirit Bear, the Caring Society’s mascot, research associate Melisa Brittain says progress in seeking equity for First Nations families and children in Canada is facing setbacks because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The disadvantages so many First Nations kids are dealing with are really exacerbated by COVID-19,” Brittain said.
Brittain points to events like the screening of Jordan River Anderson: The Messenger with director Alanis Obomsawin in the spring at Edmonton’s Metro Cinema and last November’s standing-room-only panel discussion on Bill C-92 featuring FNCARES director Cindy Blackstock and UAlberta law professor Hadley Freidland as examples of the service’s outreach efforts.
FNCARES also released a learning guide for professionals working with children and youth for the film (Dis)placed: Indigenous Youth and the Child Welfare System. Brittain, who directed and co-produced the film, wrote the learning guide with Educational Policy Studies doctoral student Sarah Auger. An online launch of the learning guide is pending this fall, as is a launch of the new storybook, Spirit Bear: Echoes of the Past, in which Spirit Bear and friends witness the removal of a statue of John A. Macdonald and learn about why people disagree and the importance of learning all parts of history.
Brittain said Spirit Bear fans of all ages can also look forward to a stop motion-animated movie based on the first Spirit Bear book, with an online release planned for younger viewers across Canada and a possible screening for educators in Edmonton in November, with appropriate public health precautions in place.
She notes that the pandemic is magnifying the inequities experienced by First Nations people in Canada.
“Many First Nations people living on reserves are impacted disproportionately by COVID-19 because of ongoing systemic inequities grounded in colonialism and the cumulative effects that compounding emergencies can create,” Brittain said. “Many First Nations face difficulties meeting preventative measures due to lack of clean water and difficulties isolating because of housing shortages and overcrowding. Health care access is less available because of underfunding, as are PPE and COVID-19 tests.”
“Like others across Canada, many First Nations families are dealing with loss of income and difficulty accessing childcare. For children involved in the child welfare system, there is a potential for disruption of family visitation and other supports, and increased potential for neglect and psychosocial distress.”
Brittain invites everyone to follow FNCARES on Facebook and Twitter to stay apprised of news, events and campaigns like #countdown2school, which links K-12 teachers and students with ways to learn about reconciliation and social justice in the classroom or at home.
Photo caption: FNCARES director Cindy Blackstock (second from right) poses with singers and readers at a Spirit Bear book launch on June 13, 2019 at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre.