Eleven-year-old Kendra Levi-Paul is asking the Government of New Brunswick to have a heart and fully enact Jordan’s Principle to guarantee First Nations children equal access to education, health care and social services in Canada.
Standing on the steps of the Legislative Assembly on February 13 when temperatures reached -13C with the windchill, Levi-Paul told the small crowd who came out to support her that “equality doesn’t always mean equal.” Joining her were youth performers T.J. Sock, Mason and Madison Milliea, and Aqtamgiaq Tepgunset
Augustine who danced in traditional regalia and were joined by Indigenous drummers who sang chants and drummed as they demanded change.
“We need better education and to protect the rights of the children and Indigenous people,” said Levi-Paul, who is Mi’kmaw and Wolstaq, Her parents are from New Brunswick’s two largest reserves, Elsipogtog and Tobique First Nation and the sixth grader attends school in Listuguj First Nation in Quebec after moving there from Elsipogtog.
“I would like our schools to be beautifully furnished and people have really good healthcare,” said Levi-Paul, who described her family’s move to Listuguj as “the best move ever” because it gives her access to a better school than the one she left behind in Elipogtog. However, she says, many First Nations students don’t the opportunity to move to better conditions.
“It just hurts to know somebody is hurting,” said Levi-Paul.
Levi-Paul’s speech comes a day before the national “Have a Heart Day,’’ which is hosted by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and dedicated to improving the well being of Indigenous children in Canada. It encourages people to send valentines and letters to MPs and the Prime Minister calling for improvements in the child welfare services in Canada and to implement Jordan’s Principle.
First Nations Child and Family Caring Society executive director Cindy Blackstock is a national advocate for Indigenous youths right and a pen pal to Levi-Paul. The two met two years ago and Levi-Paul was inspired to get involved.
“We talked to her and so I thought so well I’m youth. I should be fighting for my rights and protecting my rights so they don’t get violated,” said Levi-Paul, who presented her letter to New Brunswick Deputy Premier and Minister of Families and Children Stephen Horsman.
Last year, she and her classmates planted seeds but this year Levi-Paul wanted to do more and decided to write a letter to New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. With only three weeks to plan, her mother Lisa Levi-Paul reached out to her work place MAWIW, which advocates for the needs of Elsipogtog, Tobique, and Burnt Church First Nations, to help organize the rally.
Lisa Levi-Paul said there wasn’t a hesitation and she couldn’t be prouder of her daughter.
“Kendra’s really a smart girl. You can explain to her complex things to her and she finds a way to understand,” said Levi-Paul, adding thinking about her daughters actions made her heart about to burst.
Also in attendance was Kendra’s grandmother, Laura Levi of Elsipogtog First Nation. She was happy to see the participation but spoke about how dire the conditions can be because of underfunding .
“Most of the children that are growing up are hopeless because of that, and I hope with the program with Cindy Blackstock it will move things forward.”
Levi said throughout the years government programs have funded just enough to “barely keep us alive.”
She said Canadians should consider their own children suffering as Indigenous children and maybe then things would change faster. But she’s hopeful that change is coming soon because there’s so much that First Nations children lack.
“If their [Canadian] children are suffering as much as our children they would care,” says Levi. “They would stand with their children.”
National Have a Heart Day launches today, Valentine’s Day, with a national rally in Ottawa. There are three
ways to join Kendra Levi-Paul’s campaign for New Brunswick First Nations children and the larger Have a Heart Day activities.
- Send a Valentine’s Day card to local MPs and the Prime Minister;
- Host an event in your school or community to raise awareness; and,
- For teachers, visit The Caring Society website to access classroom resources to introduce students to First Nations issues.