Jordan’s Principle

This post was originally published in July 2009 as part of International Blog Against Racism Week

One of the things that we talk about here, on occasion, is how lucky we are that Don is a white man with a disability living in Canada. Things become more complicated in my post-racial utopia of a country when someone of a different race is born with a disability.

Take, for example, the case of Jordan River Anderson, a First Nations boy from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba. Jordan was born with “complex health needs” (this is code for Carey Fineman Ziter Syndrome, a rare muscular disorder) and spent the first two years of his life in hospital. At that point, his doctors agreed that he could go home and live with his family, although he would need continuing care.

If Jordan hadn’t been First Nations, he would have gone home, and his care would have been paid for by the provincial government as part of his health care costs. However, as a First Nations child, the cost of Jordan’s care became an argument between the provincial and federal government. Neither wanted to pay for it, so Jordan stayed in hospital.

He died at age 5, having never been home.

First Nations advocates came together and wrote Jordan’s Principle:

Under this principle, where a jurisdictional dispute arises between two government parties (provincial/territorial or federal) or between two departments or ministries of the same government, regarding payment for services for a Status Indian child which are otherwise available to other Canadian children, the government or ministry/department of first contact must pay for the services without delay or disruption. The paying government party can then refer the matter to jurisdictional dispute mechanisms. In this way, the needs of the child get met first while still allowing for the jurisdictional dispute to be resolved.

This was adopted unanimously by the Canadian Government in December, 2007.

In principle.

Special Needs Kids May Be Forced Into Foster Care (May, 2008):

Government infighting has families in a northern Manitoba community in anguish about how to best care for their children.

The Norway House Cree Nation has told the families of children with special needs that they may be forced to give up their children because the First Nation can no longer pay for their care, and federal and provincial governments can’t agree on who should pay.

Charlene Ducharme works with the Kinosao Sipi Minisowin Agency, a social agency on the reserve, and said she has yet to see Jordan’s Principle in action. She said the children of Norway House deserve the same care that other Manitoba children get.

“Our premier said Manitoba would be the first one to implement Jordan’s Principle… we’re still waiting.”

Late in 2008, the Manitoba Government also adopted Jordan’s Principle.

However, in reality, very little has changed. According to a UNICEF report issued this year, in honour of the 20th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children in Canada still suffer in comparison to other children:

1 in 4 First Nations children lives in poverty compared to 1 in 9 Canadian children on average.

In cities of more than 100,000 people, approximately 50 per cent of Aboriginal children under the age of 15 live in low-income housing, compared to 21 per cent of non-Aboriginal children.

In contrast to the national infant mortality rate of 5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, the rate is 8 per 1, 000 among First Nations and 16 per 1,000 in Nunavut (where 85 per cent of the population is Inuit).

Only 63 per cent of First Nations children on selected reserves accessed a doctor in 2001; 46 per cent of Inuit children and 77 per cent Métis children did so, compared to 85 per cent of Canadian children on average.

Between 33 and 45 per cent of Inuit, Métis and First Nations children (on and off reserve) report chronic illness.

On-reserve First Nations child immunization rates are 20 per cent lower than in the general population, leading to higher rates of vaccine-preventable diseases.

38: The percentage of deaths attributable to suicide for First Nations youth aged 10 to 19. In 1999, the suicide rate among First Nations was 2.1 times higher than the overall Canadian rate. The rate of suicide for Inuit is 11 times higher than the overall rate of the Canadian population.

[Source] [Report Summary, WARNING: PDF]

Canada’s ranking on the Human Development Index, which is used by the United Nations to measure a country’s achievement in health, knowledge, and a decent standard of living is third. Evaluating the living conditions of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people alone, their ranking is 68th.

My country prides itself on being “better” than the U.S. on issues of race.

Jordan died 800 km from home because he was First Nations. First Nations children in my country are not getting the care they need, the care available to other children, because they are First Nations.

This is not an improvement.

[International Blog Against Racism Week]


  1. Oh, wow.

    I will have to look into it, but I don’t know that the US has an equivalent to this. I know things like this happen w/in Tribal Nations in the US, but I don’t know how often. I should write to my Tribal Rep again to find out.

  2. I’m sorry to say that I’m not remotely surprised. Any issues dealing with aboriginals in Canada tend to be FUBAR by all appearances.

  3. Ugh. The BNA [British North America] Act gave the federal government jurisdiction over indigenous people in Canada (and, very importantly, over THEIR LAND), but the moment that this becomes more WORK than PROFIT, somehow it’s up to the provinces (hence the failure to help manage the water and sanitation in so many communities). Never mind that neither level of government is appropriate (the provinces lack the resources, the feds the geographical proximity, and both lack the motivation and understanding), and both have gone out of their way to undermine and disable* indigenous communities over the last 150+ years.

    * I mean this in the sense of the way that society goes out of its way to disable some people’s bodies and enable others; I think it can be applied to these societies and communities as well, particularly when one considers how Canadian legislation was used to restrict and attack all indigenous ways of life and create problems where there were none. Not in the sense of disability as a plain perjorative.

  4. The only part of this post I could laugh at was “my post-racial utopia of a country,” because I live in Canada too.

    What a ridiculous and sad state of affairs.

  5. But Anna, dontchaknow that FN have worse health outcomes because they practice poor hygiene?

    (I am being very bitterly sarcastic here; I’ve heard that as a real excuse that, for example, FN are a jillion times more likely to get H1N1. I work with FN in my job. I see how thoroughly the system screws them over. And I see how everyone else blames them for it.)

  6. I’m also Canadian! And I also had a bitter laugh to the reference to our “post-racial utopia”.

    It’s something I’m only just beginning to explore as it relates to my identity and sense of self, but I’m Métis. I have passing privilege–I look pretty white–but I am Métis, and so stuff like this…hits pretty hard. It’s important to talk about it, though. So thanks so much for this post.

  7. The tribal systems in the US are pretty screwy. Not all tribes are federally recognized. The ones that are still all over the map, in terms of health care and other services, but members of one tribe can use another federally recognized tribe’s services. My husband and child are both Cherokee, but we didn’t live in the Cherokee Nation. We lived very near the Choctaw Nation, but drove 35 miles to use the Kickapoo clinic. Although they got good care there, they have the privilege of being non-rez Indians (most Native Americans in Oklahoma refer to themselves as Indians – I really like “First Nations” a whole lot better than “Native American.”) Rez folks usually start out life at a health deficit, for a host of reasons, and it goes downhill from there. Cherokees are an urban tribe, with their nation overlapping with downtown Tulsa. But they have their own racial issues, namely the stripping of the Freedmen, descendants of Cherokee-owned black slaves, of their tribal rights and membership.

    We ran into some medical payment issues for prescriptions once when Medicaid and the Nation were battling over who was supposed to pay. Fortunately, that came up after we had the medicine in hand. God only knows what happens when someone is hospitalized.

  8. Yeah, things are Not Good here south of the border either. We’ve got the famous problem with tribal criminal justice systems being prohibited from enforcing the law when the perpetrator is someone from off the reservation. The feds are supposed to do that but it’s not exactly a priority so something like nine in ten women living in some reservations have been sexually assaulted. (Rape culture, what?) The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been sued several times for mismanagement and embezzlement of mineral lease royalties and other land-use payments that should have gone to the tribes: billions of dollars have just fucking vanished. The Makah people whoops! aren’t actually allowed to hunt whales even though they have treaty rights to do exactly that. But when did we ever keep a treaty with the indigenous people.

    But it’s awesome being an American Indian. They got all that casino money, all kinds of special tax rights and shit, it’s great! At least you’d think from watching TV. They don’t show the communities with fifty percent unemployment. The people who are just gone because they were deliberately exposed to smallpox. The people who were evicted from the Yosemite Valley because John Muir wanted it ‘unspoiled by humans’ even though they’d lived there for hundreds of years before he came along — and became the pattern for national parks and indigenous peoples for the century that followed. Which information was notably absent from the Burns hagiography.