The 2010 federal budget has cancelled funding to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF), a national non-profit that finances 134 aboriginal support services across the country. Funding for the community-based programs will come to an end on March 31, when available funds are expected to run out.
On Sunday, the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM) held a policy meeting with Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff to call on the federal government to reinstate its support for the AHF. The shelter depends on the AHF for funding.
“We have been receiving funds from the AHF for the last 10 years, and it goes toward our healing program, and the basics, a roof over the head and food to eat…A lot of people [are] out of work, and we are going to be grasping at straws now to try to meet the needs of the women,” said Nakuset, the shelter’s executive director.
Nakuset also said that the shelter will now have to cut the positions of sexual assault counsellor, program coordinator, and clinical supervisor.
“It is quite devastating; we have an art therapist that comes in on a weekly basis, a psychologist, and psychotherapist who is Mohawk. People over the last decade have come to depend on our services for more than just the basics,” Nakuset added.
Women community leaders from across Montreal, Ignatieff, and Liberal MP Justin Trudeau attended the policy meeting to express their support for the shelter and AHF.
“At the moment when aboriginal women and aboriginal families are under maximum pressure, increased pressure in an economic downturn, it is the worst possible time to cut funding to these healing centres that provide so much good,” said Ignatieff.
He added that working with the Conservative government is extremely different, and that co-operation on its part is the exception, not the rule.
“These groups depend on public money. We don’t think it’s appropriate for them to have to go begging to private sources…. We think these institutions perform public services; they protect women, they shelter women, they help women, and they deserve public support,” added Ignatieff.
According to Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs spokesperson Margot Geduld, the federal government has allocated $65.9 million over two years for aboriginal health programs to be distributed by Health Canada. The federal budget also allocates $199 million for the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
The federal program provides former residential school students with a lump sum payment of $10,000 for the first school year plus $3,000 for each subsequent year they spent in the residential school system. Students who suffered serious physical and sexual abuses may apply for additional compensation.
Geduld would not comment on why funding to the AHF was not renewed this year, though she thanked the foundation for providing support to aboriginal peoples and said that officials had met with the AHF to discuss moving forward.
Terri Normandin, the shelter’s sexual assault counsellor, said that the federal budget did not specify how the allocated funds would be distributed, and that it remained unclear whether existing programs would receive any support.
She added that she was surprised that the funding was cut considering the magnitude of the trauma caused by the residential school system.
“It may be from the past, but when you look at the social issues we are dealing with, we have a loss of cultural identity, poor self esteem, a lot of health issues, addiction, a lot of domestic violence. The whole thing is inter-generational trauma…years and years of habits that we were starting to help with, issues that are not laid to rest,” said Normandin.
The NWSM sent an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper Tuesday to demand the renewal of funds for the AHF.
AHF communications director Wayne Spear said the foundation is prepared to support the transition of 11 healing centres and other programs.
“We will continue to inform the government of the work we are doing and our research and experience. We’ve been clear that there is five years of truth and reconciliation work, mental health counselling, and support for survivors that are needed. We’ve also said that there are a lot of unreached communities, and that communities with service are still early on in this work,” said Spear.