Cindy Blackstock

Ashoka Fellow
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Fellow Since 2010


This profile was prepared when Cindy Blackstock was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.
The New Idea
Cindy is changing the mindsets of citizens—including politicians, businesspeople, and public servants—toward First Nations as well as their treatment by government. She works across disciplines and sectors to engage people within and beyond Canada to take action to bring equal funding, support, and resources to all Canadian children. Cindy works at all possible levels to make this vision a reality.

At the grassroots level, Cindy is creating a large reconciliation movement through the development of Touchstones of Hope, a process that brings together public child welfare practitioners and members of First Nations communities. Through patient network building, not only has Cindy succeeded in finding common ground among Canada’s 233 divided First Nations groups, representing 30 different languages, she has also created unique spaces where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples can interact and plan their future collectively, putting their children’s welfare in the forefront. Together, they identify processes to solutions and address the ongoing structural and systemic barriers that have made child welfare issues, inequalities, and conflict, seemingly intractable. Touchstones’ design brings participants to the table without their titles or job functions. This creates an environment where participants are free to express their opinions and develop reconciliatory solutions while not being bound by mandate and policy or tribal protocol.

Equally important to Cindy’s mission of addressing child welfare issues for all Canadians is the knowledge dissemination and research aspect of her work. Cindy is very clear about this strategy, saying she does research “out of necessity, to change things.” She works with professional, high-caliber researchers to build a legitimate and scientifically-sound body of research on issues of child welfare. Cindy is systematically filling a critical knowledge gap and is using research as a tool to bridge the chasm between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. In additiion, she disseminates First Nations knowledge (scientific and non-scientific) to spread awareness and build an action-focused movement through an online journal and nationwide awareness campaigns, such as “Seven Ways to Make a Difference” and “Be a Witness.” Cindy is thus building the empathetic social fabric needed to pave the way toward equity. She is also creating compelling evidence that the Western and Aboriginal paths to knowledge and understanding mesh well together, and can in fact, complete each other.

After playing a leading role in passing a historical law, Jordan’s Principle, a child-first principle to resolve jurisdictional disputes involving the care of First Nations children, Cindy is now leading the most publicly watched case in Canadian history. She is presenting a case in front of Canada’s Human Rights Tribunal against the Canadian government. Cindy’s goal, regardless of the final decision, is to engage a critical mass of Canadians in the cause of First Nations child welfare and highlight the current discrimination in health and education of First Nations families across Canada to further influence national policy.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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