Centretown Aboriginal programs at risk for budget cuts

Two Centretown Aboriginal resource centres may lose programming if the government decides to go ahead with budget cuts to an Ottawa Aboriginal organization.

The Minwaashin Lodge and the Tungasuvvingat Inuit will lose $3.6 million in federal grant money distributed through the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, a national organization that funds Aboriginal community organizations who propose local projects addressing the effects of residential schools.

The Minwaashin Lodge: Aboriginal Women’s Support Centre on Catherine Street will lose just over $1 million, which funds its “Strengthening Our Circle” program that aims to restore health, cultural identity and pride to victims of residential schools.

Tungasuvvingat Inuit will lose more than $2 million that funds a range of programs that provide holistic, culturally and linguistic specific counselling to Ottawa’s Inuit who attended residential schools.

One critic of Canada’s Aboriginal policies says the government’s proposal is a good thing and that organizations like the AHF are roadblocks to achieving meaningful change in ending the systemic causes of Aboriginal poverty.

Frances Widdowson is a political scientist at Mount Royal College in Calgary. She has written a book on the “Indian industry” and recently wrote a piece supporting cutting the AHF budget for the National Post.

AHF’s executive director, Mike Degagné, says that Widdowson’s critique is flawed and ill-informed. “Her premise that Aboriginals aren’t industrious and ill-suited to Western culture is inaccurate and her article reflects very little research of what the AHF actually does."

He says that describing the AHF’s primarily Aboriginal staff as people who profit from Aboriginal poverty is ridiculous. “She tries to portray successful, integrated Aboriginals as anomalies when really show that given opportunities we can excel in the modern world within our own cultural framework.

Widdowson says she admits her National Post article may not have been scholarly but she stands by her argument that organizations like the AHF encourage Aboriginals to remain segregated in unsustainable isolated communities.  

“People like Degagné who are completely integrated don’t have the problems that he is working to solve, traditionalist practices keep the people in the poverty they’re trying to solve,” said Widdowson. In addition, she says this poverty results in continuation of social problems and results in more demands for healing.

NDP MP Niki Ashton represents the district of Churchhill, Man., in the House of Commons. She started the petition calling on the government to renew the AHF’s funding. Ashton says the Healing Foundation represents the government’s commitment to resolving the residential school file. “How can you apologize two years ago and then renege on the support systems that go with it, they’re telling us their story, they deserve our support,” said Ashton.

Castille Troy is the executive director of Minwaashin Lodge. She says that anyone that says the AHF funding perpetuates Aboriginal poverty doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

“The support we provide is all culturally based  and done by people who understand what its like and what it takes to help the healing,” said Troy. She says the funding cut will force many organizations to reduce programming quality and ultimately further delay Aboriginal healing.

No one will know if the Healing Foundation will receive its funding until the government reveals what will be in this year’s budget. Until then Ashton says she will continue to raise awareness about the organization to pressure the Conservatives to change their minds.