2022 Impact Awards—Gold Medal winner: Cindy Blackstock

As a scholar and a member of the Gitxsan Nation, Gold Medal winner Cindy Blackstock, professor in the School of Social Work at McGill University and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, has dedicated her career to the inequities in First Nations’ child welfare services, the overrepresentation of First Nations children in care, and the development of policies to address these issues. But it is her work as a tireless advocate for human rights and First Nations equality that has brought the extent of systemic discrimination experienced by First Nations children and families into the mainstream consciousness of Canadians.

For Blackstock, the positive effects of her research for First Nations communities are what is most significant, but her outstanding record of awards and honours, media interviews, publications and presentations, in addition to implemented policy changes, are indicative of the enormous impact she has had as a public scholar.

“My work is centred on culturally based equity for First Nations children. For decades, reports have linked colonialism and the dramatic inequalities in public services with a wide array of poor outcomes for First Nations children, youth and families. The challenge is to implement the reports’ recommendations to remedy the inequalities and ensure First Nations children have a fair chance to grow up safely in their families, get a good education, be happy and proud of who they are,” says Blackstock.

Blackstock acknowledges SSHRC funding has been integral to her research and to reconciliation efforts. “SSHRC support helped to document the causes of the overrepresentation of First Nations children in care, which we filed into evidence at the ongoing historic Canadian Human Rights Tribunal case beginning in 2007, resulting in over 2.4 million new services for First Nations children. On top of that are the initiatives First Nations are developing and enhancing in child and family services.”

SSHRC funding has also supported the peer-reviewed journal First Peoples Child & Family Review, an interdisciplinary journal privileging First Nations, Métis and Inuit knowledges. More recently, through an Insight Grant, we are collaborating with colleagues at the University of Ottawa to document elementary teachers’ perceptions of student engagement in reconciliation-based social justice.”

Blackstock believes strongly in an interdisciplinary approach and training, which are reflected in her own academic journey and collaborations with other researchers and students.

“I have worked with researchers and students in law, medicine, economics, nursing, education, public policy, the arts, history and social work. I really try to ensure that students develop the skills to work across disciplines to better meet community needs, and this is encapsulated in the applied nature of the courses I teach,” she adds.

Blackstock says winning the Gold Medal is a recognition of the collective wisdom and effort of Indigenous people, as well as non-Indigenous allies, who advocated for years for the implementation of evidence-informed solutions to the injustices and discriminatory practices affecting First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, youth and families.

“Their efforts set the stage for me to work with others in communities to take those recommendations ‘off the dusty bookshelf’ and to make a positive difference in the lives of tens of thousands of First Nations children and families. I hope this award stands as an inspiration for academia to respect and honour First Nations, Métis and Inuit knowledges and applied academics.”

As an Honorary Witness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Blackstock believes she has a public duty to work with Indigenous Peoples and across academic disciplines to implement the TRC’s Calls to Action.

“Reconciliation means learning from past injustices in a way that changes behaviour and attitudes to prevent the injustices from continuing so that we can raise a generation of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children who do not have to recover from their childhoods and a generation of non-Indigenous children who never have to say they are sorry.”

Her SSHRC-supported research has had an impact in effecting change and advancing reconciliation.

“It is a credit to the high standard of merit-reviewed SSHRC-funded research, along with community-level expertise, that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal substantiated Canada’s discrimination towards First Nations children and issued repeated legal orders requiring Canada to cease its discriminatory conduct. These orders have resulted in billions of dollars in supports to keep First Nations families together and promote culturally based child well-being.”

About the award

The annual Impact Awards recognize the highest achievements in SSHRC-funded research, knowledge mobilization and scholarship, as well as the highest achievements resulting from a SSHRC fellowship awarded.

SSHRC’s highest honour, the prestigious Gold Medal is given to individuals whose sustained leadership, dedication and originality of thought have inspired students and colleagues alike.

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