To Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario PC Party,
In 2008, your Federal predecessor, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, stood before the House of Commons and under the eyes of fellow MPs from all parties and Canadians watching from coast to coast, delivered a long awaited apology, on behalf of Canadians, for the Indian Residential Schools system. Former Prime Minister Harper prefaced his speech as a “sad chapter in our history.” In his apology, Mr. Harper stated:
“two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. These objectives were based on the assumption Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, ‘to kill the Indian in the child’. Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.”
“The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language […] The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long. The burden is properly ours as a Government, and as a country. […] You have been working on recovering from this experience for a long time and in a very real sense, we are now joining you on this journey.”
Mr. Ford, we do not see the Ontario Conservative Party joining us on this journey. In fact, we see the Ontario Government willingly turning away from it and the hard work put forth by our communities to rebuild after the Indian Residential School legacy and other harmful policies. Indigenous communities have undergone decades of systematic destruction of culture and languages enacted and enforced through government legislation. The wide scope of the Indigenous Culture Fund (ICF) allowed for a multiplicity of Indigenous-led initiatives with a shared objective of reclaiming, preserving and revitalizing culture while repairing damages inflicted upon these communities.
Though administered by the Ontario Arts Council, the Indigenous Culture Fund is separate and not focussed on art or arts projects; the ICF funds cultural projects designed to revitalize Indigenous communities, connect youth and elders, and reclaim Indigenous knowledge systems and languages. In the community of Nipissing First Nation, the ICF is funding a project which teaches community members about traditional harvesting, foraging and gardening methods – a project which not only engages our community in Anishinaabe ways of being, but also addresses issues of food security. This is just one of many unique and necessary projects funded by the ICF, the scope of possibility for meaningful programming the fund could provide is limitless.
Mr. Ford, this fund directly addresses Stephen Harpers assertion that “we are now joining you on this journey” towards recovery AND the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.
The Indigenous Culture fund was designed by Indigenous communities for Indigenous communities through an extensive consultation process. It allows Indigenous communities to identify their own needs and create programming which best responds to it. In its short existence, the Indigenous Culture fund was changing lives. Language learning and cultural reclamation are powerful steps towards empowerment and healing. Over a million Indigenous Canadians today can not speak their languages because their parents or grandparents were prevented by force from speaking theirs. Within each language are embedded our worldviews, our histories, our laws. They are who we are.
The Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Michael Tibollo, has responded to our letters of concern by providing us with a list of other Ontario “Indigenous” funding initiatives, but none of those programs respond to community need in the way in which the ICF does.
Mr. Tibollo’s list includes Indigenous arts grants and funding for Indigenous museums – but the Indigenous Culture Fund isn’t about the arts or curation. His list includes the Ontario Cultural Attractions fund and Indigenous Tourism Ontario – but those programs have nothing to do with Indigenous community initiatives to maintain and revitalize our knowledges and languages, in fact, those initiatives are meant for Ontario to promote its own tourism industry. Our culture should be worth more to Ontario than just a tourist commodity. Finally, Mr. Tibollo referenced the Trillium Grant – a fund the PC government also recently slashed by $15 million dollars. The Trillium Grant is also not earmarked for Indigenous people and with a smaller pot, our chances of accessing those funds dwindles.
We are concerned the Ontario PC government does not realize what it is they have cut and, we fear, are looking to completely dismantle. None of the other funding programs forwarded by Minister Tibollo, nor the upcoming Indigenous economic initiatives cited by Minister Rickford on February 19th address community need in the way the ICF does. Not one of these cited grants or programs fund learning of Indigenous cultural practices or languages.
The Ontario Government’s cuts come at a time as the rest of the world enters the “International Year of Indigenous Languages” as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. To that end, the Indigenous Culture Fund can be seen as Ontario’s commitment to upholding many articles outlined within the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) including articles: 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 & 31. Of these, we’d like to draw your attention to Article 13 (1) “Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures,” and Article 11 (1) “Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect, and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures,”. 11 (2) “states shall provide redress through effective mechanisms…”
The scope of potential projects promoting cultural continuity for Indigenous communities is limitless, yet the fund is being cut preemptively before Indigenous communities or the Ontario Government has had a chance to fully realize the merits of the program or what could be achieved. We MUST be given the opportunity to determine our own paths to (re)connect with culture and languages and in doing so we expand the potential for our future generations. We ask that the Ontario PC government support Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous languages, our culture, our people and our futures by reinstating the Indigenous Culture Fund in full.