Canadian Government Ends Funding for Residential School Healing Programs

First Nations and Innu communities have criticized the recent Federal budget for eliminating the Aboriginal Healing Program, which provided essential funding for various health and social service initiatives across Canada.

From the CBC.

Money for 135 healing projects for survivors of abuse at Indian residential schools is ending, officials from the program say.

“We found out this morning,” Mike DeGagné, executive director of the Aboriginal Health Foundation, told CBC News Friday.

DeGagné said the organization had been hoping the federal budget, unveiled Thursday, would include money for the foundation but was informed Friday that it does not.

“We have been extended twice and that’s something we have to look back on as a real positive,” he said. “We were originally given a sum of money to help survivors of residential schools and we were given two additional smaller sums as time went on.”

The foundation began with an original grant of $350 million in 1998 that was designed to run for 10 years. It received additional allocations totaling about $50 million in the last two years.

Positive evaluation

“We went through an evaluation last fall that was quite successful,” DeGagné noted. “We did our best, in terms of justifying our continuation, but it didn’t work out.”

DeGagné said the foundation has funded a variety of projects, large and small, to help victims cope with their experiences at residential schools.

“From a few survivors getting together to do something collectively, maybe sew a quilt and then donate that quilt to the benefit of youth in their area,” he said, “[to] some larger and more complex projects that would involve counseling services and traditional therapies … for people who are still really suffering from abuse that occurred in residential schools.”

Indian residential schools, operated by religious organizations and government, were found across Canada for more than 100 years. The last one, at the Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, closed in 1996.

While providing a general education for some, the schools were also places where native language and culture were forcibly discouraged.

In many cases, children were physically or sexually abused at the schools.

Community-based programs

DeGagné said the foundation provided a unique service because funded programs were developed by First Nations people, for First Nations.

“Everybody understands that when you build something yourself, you design something yourself, you figure out your own needs and you work to meet those needs, you have a sense of ownership over it,” DeGagné said. “And all of the projects that the healing foundation supports were projects that were designed at the community level.

“This is real community development in action, and that’s why — I think —they’ve been so well supported, locally.”

DeGagné said that although programs had been supported over the course of more than 10 years, there was more work to be done.

“I can assure you, as recently as this week, … that there’s a lot of people who are in pain from years of abuse and this persists,” he said. “For a lot of survivors of residential schools, this will be a difficult period.”

Disappointment at Wellness Centre

“Really really sad. Not so much for me, but for the people,” Darwin Blind, a counsellor at the Recovery and Wellness Centre on the Gordon First Nation, said Friday. “We have become such a very essential service out here.”

The centre provides one-on-one counselling and group sessions for survivors. The community continues to struggle with the legacy of dysfunction left behind by residential school experiences.

DeGagné said a few projects will continue for a couple of years and then they’ll close the doors.

“We’re busy right now, in fact, sending letters out to each of them to apologize for not having secured additional funding for them and to tell them that the time has come to wind down,” he said.

According to DeGagné, the federal budget does provide some money to support survivors. He said funds will go to Health Canada for its existing programs.

DeGagné said programs that relied on Aboriginal Healing Foundation grants could approach Health Canada, to see if they could be continued with money from Health Canada.

“Our organization fades into the sunset,” he said.

While funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation is ending, the federal budget has allocated money for other initiatives related to residential school abuse.

In the federal budget released this week the government outlined plans to allocate $199 million, over two years, to cover additional costs connected to the 2005 settlement agreement for lawsuits that were launched over the schools.

In the settlement, former victims can access compensation for costs associated with mental health services.


Posted on March 15, 2010, in Civil & Human Rights, Indigenous Struggles and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Canadian Government Ends Funding for Residential School Healing Programs.

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