CAIRS to close

The phone at the Committee on Abuse in Residential School Society has been cut off. It can't pay the bill. The cheque from National Crime Prevention, which arrived this week, has already been spent.

The phone at the Committee on Abuse in Residential School Society has been cut off.

It can’t pay the bill.

The cheque from National Crime Prevention, which arrived this week, has already been spent.

It covered two months rent.

The society is still behind another two.

The Whitehorse drop-in centre for residential school survivors will close by the end of this month, said executive director Joanne Henry.

“Everyone thinks, because the phone’s disconnected, that CAIRS is closed,” she said. “We’re still here – until the end of the month.”

A fundraiser at the beginning of March raised $9,000 in pledges, but only $5,000 actually came through, said Henry.

The Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation was one of only two First Nation governments to call in.

It pledged $500 and challenged all other First Nations to meet or beat that number. But the $500 never came through.

Local lawyer, Dan Shier gets a lot of work from CAIRS. He helps residential school survivors with their settlement cases. Henry recommends him by name to many of her clients, she said.

He pledged $1,000 during last month’s show. But that money never showed up either, and Shier hasn’t returned any of Henry’s calls, she said.

“I think there’s good support for CAIRS, but it’s not the kind of support we need,” said Henry. “You feel good on one hand because it’s the people who really benefit from CAIRS that care whether or not we’re here. But it’s the people, like government, that don’t. They may say they care, but you know that old saying: actions speak louder than words.”

With the exception of Yukon’s current Liberal MP Larry Bagnell and Whitehorse MLA Liz Hanson, no politicians have ever returned Henry’s calls or letters. And she’s given them many opportunities. She hand delivered a letter to the office of the Minister of Health and Social Services, Glenn Hart. He didn’t make time to see her and she never heard back from him.

Henry and her one other staff member have not been paid in more than a month, she said.

“It’s what we believe in, it’s what we’re committed to,” she said. “Every week I say to him, ‘Are you worried?’ As long as he says ‘No,’ then I think ‘OK, I won’t worry this week either then.’ We support each other quite a bit.”

And now, without a phone, the two are supporting the whole centre, using their emails at home and their personal cellphones to conduct their work.

“That’s our connection to everybody,” she said.

Including Health Canada. Henry met with officials from the federal agency this week. She is waiting to hear back from them about possible funding.

It was Health Canada that eventually jumped in for a similar organization in Watson Lake: the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Council.

It was once funded by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation as well, before that national resource dried up last spring.

“We never closed our doors,” said Ann Maje Raider, executive director of the council. “I was laid off from April to October and I just continued to lobby for funding. And then Health Canada provided us support.”

That funding has to be applied for every year, said Raider.

It pays for her wage, as a resolution health support worker, as well as a small budget for operational costs, some traditional healing and a part-time office worker.

In Whitehorse, the Council of Yukon First Nations has a team of resolution health support workers and Raider suspects that is why Health Canada has ignored CAIRS.

But Henry is optimistic about CAIRS’ proposal with the federal body.

“Tomorrow, who knows which way it’s going to go,” she said. “But if we do close, the way I see it is, the effect of residential school – it’s not going away. It’s becoming more and more and more. It’s just there.

“And it’s not to say that we can fix it all, but we can certainly help. And we have. That’s what we’re set up for.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at