First Nations child advocate is inaugural Alexander F. Chamberlain series speaker

York’s Children’s Studies Program is launching the new Alexander F. Chamberlain Speaker Series, named after the Canadian anthropologist, linguist and ethnologist. The inaugural speaker, Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada and a member of the Gitksan Nation, will deliver a talk today.

A passionate children’s advocate, Blackstock will talk about “First Nations Children’s Rights in Canada” at 4pm in the Founders Assembly Hall, 152 Founders College, Keele campus. Everyone is welcome. Admission is free. The talk will be followed by an informal reception until 6pm.

Right: Cindy Blackstock

Blackstock is currently working on a Canadian Human Rights complaint against the federal government that Canada racially discriminates against First Nations children by underfunding child welfare on reserves. She is also working on the Shannen’s Dream campaign for safe and comfy schools and culturally based and equitable education on reserves, on Jordan’s Principle to ensure equitable access to government services for First Nations children, and the Many Hands, One Dream campaign to ensure equitable, strong and sustainable health care to Aboriginal children.

She is the recipient of the 2011 National Aboriginal Achievement Award and the Atkinson Foundation’s Economic Justice Fellowship. She has worked in the field of child and family services for more than two decades, including front-line child protection work. She is interested in examining and addressing the causes of disadvantage for Aboriginal children and families by promoting equitable and culturally based interventions. In addition, Blackstock holds fellowships with the Ashoka Foundation and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.

Naming the series after Chamberlain (1865-1914) “is significant for many reasons not least of which is that he might well be called the father of Children’s Studies,” says Jeffrey Canton in York’s Department of Humanities. Born in England, Chamberlain moved with his parents to the United States in 1870, then to Canada a year later. He studied languages at the University of Toronto, and in 1892, received a PhD in anthropology in the United States – the first person to do so – from Clark University, where he later became a professor.

He is the author of several books, including two influential books on children and childhood – The Child and Childhood in Folk-Thought (1896) and The Child: A Study in the Evolution of Man (1900). As an anthropologist, he investigated the culture and language of two of Canada’s indigenous tribes, the Mississauga peoples in Scugog and the Kootenay peoples in British Columbia.

But it is Chamberlain’s work with children that resonates with York’s Children’s Studies Program, says Canton. His work “bravely reached out across disciplines – anthropology, linguistics, education, sociology, criminology, science, philosophy and history…It’s this humanistic approach that links what Chamberlain did a century ago to our program, a program that sees children as a key to understanding what it means to be human.”

And this, says Canton, is what inspired York humanities Professor Carole Carpenter to start the Children’s Studies Program four years ago.

Chamberlain was also editor of the Journal of American Folklore for eight years, and was a department editor of American Anthropologist and American Journal of Archaeology. He was also co-editor of the Journal of Religious Psychology.

For more information, visit the Children’s Studies Program website or the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada website.