Have a Heart campaign calls for action on rights of Indigenous children

Fredericton MP Matt DeCourcey will be receiving over 60 Valentine’s Day cards this week from St. Thomas University students.

These cards, however, will not be filled with your typical love notes. Rather, they’ll be calls to action.

The cards are part of STU’s involvement in the national Have a Heart campaign coordinated across the country by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. The campaign is student and youth-led and seeks to raise awareness about social issues regarding Indigenous children through the writing and distribution of Valentine’s Day cards to Parliament Hill.

A table was set up in James Dunn Hall from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Feb. 6 for people to create their own cards or sign a pre-made card.

Alexa Metallic, the STU Students’ Union Indigenous representative, organized the event. In an email she said the letters written by students focused on “[ensuring] First Nation children have access to health-care, school and the means necessary to grow up in a safe and happy home.”

Quality services for Indigenous children run low as schools on reserves receive about $4,000 less per student per year compared to provincially-funded schools. 

The reality of the reserves and long-standing attitudes of race discrimination are not the experience of non-Indigenous people, leaving minority groups neglected.

Fourth-year student Mandy Richard, who was also instrumental in STU’s Have a Heart event, told The Aquinian, “You don’t know what its like [on the reserves] if you haven’t lived there.”

Metallic said the hard reality of that shows. She said “simply getting people interested” was the hardest part about organizing the event.

“It’s really hard to engage with people when what we’re trying to promote doesn’t affect them at all.”

The Have a Heart campaign seeks to overcome this lack of interest by raising awareness and sparking conversation in a sincere, but light-hearted way.

Richard said it’s a “really creative way to the get the message out.”

STUSU president Philippe Ferland described writing his Valentine’s Day card as an “artistic endeavour.”

Richard thinks the less formal character of the campaign also gives it greater potential for success.

“[The event is] not happening in a courtroom,” she said.

“The message is coming right from the children.”

Ferland said the campaign brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and offered an engaging environment for “non-Indigenous students to be introduced to these issues.”

Still, much work needs to be done nationally and provincially to get Indigenous children the same quality services enjoyed by other children across the country.

Richard said even in a single day the Have a Heart campaign showed her that “a lot of students here are supportive of Indigenous needs,” so there’s reason to be hopeful and to expect better results in the future.  

So long, of course, as Cupid works his magic on Matt DeCourcey and friends.

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