CAIRS loses its funding

Federal funding to a Yukon society for residential school survivors has been cut. In last week's budget, the Canadian government announced it won't be giving money to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, a national body that funds First Nation organizations across Canada.

Federal funding to a Yukon society for residential school survivors has been cut.

In last week’s budget, the Canadian government announced it won’t be giving money to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, a national body that funds First Nation organizations across Canada.

This means that in three months, Whitehorse’s Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools (CAIRS) could be shutting its doors for good.

“There will be a huge, huge gap in the community without CAIRS,” said executive director Norman Drynock.

“There will be no place else for a lot of the people (we assist) to go. There’s no one else in town to support them in what they’re trying to get help in.”

The committee runs a drop-in centre on Fourth Avenue that offers counselling services, a woodshop and an area for people to meet and relax.

The organization employs two outreach workers who offer life-skills training and counselling. They also make visits to First Nation people who are in the hospital, many of whom are dying from cancer, said Drynock.

There’s also an artist-in-residence who teaches carving and other craft skills to community members, including a large portion who’ve recently left corrections and are living at the Salvation Army’s Adult Resource Centre.

In his position as director, Drynock guides Yukon First Nation people through the application process for compensation under the Indian Residential School Settlement.

It’s a complicated process and often involves trauma counselling, said Drynock.

In the last two years, the organization has helped about 200 women and 300 men in the Yukon, he said.

The committee has been around since 1997, receiving funding at first through National Crime Prevention and fundraising efforts, and later through the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Now, Drynock wants to secure alternative sources of funding for CAIRS.

With the money his organization has received to wind things down over the next three months, he’ll focus on writing new funding proposals.

If CAIRS can remain open, Drynock believes the organization will have to downsize its staff and level of programming.

CAIRS is one of 135 First Nation programs that won’t get their funding renewed come April.

The government has said it is funnelling $199 million, instead, to Health Canada for emotional and mental health services for survivors.

But that announcement “casts a dark shadow over the good and effective work being done in aboriginal communities, by aboriginal people, to address the destructive residential school legacy and to create healthier, stronger communities,” said foundation director Georges Erasmus, in a news release last Friday.

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation was established in 1998, after it received a one-time federal grant of $350 million to operate until March 2009.

The purpose of the organization was to assist First Nation people suffering from alcoholism, depression, a lack of parenting skills and violence, all as a result of the residential school system.

Also affected by the funding cuts are programs administered by the Northern Tutchone Tribal Council, the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society.

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com