First Nations ignore CAIRS plight

The Committee on Abuse in Residential School can pay its bills for at least one more month. A five-hour fundraiser on CHON FM, the local First Nation radio station, raised $9,000 last Friday.

The Committee on Abuse in Residential School can pay its bills for at least one more month.

A five-hour fundraiser on CHON FM, the local First Nation radio station, raised $9,000 last Friday.

But executive Director Joanne Henry is finding it hard to be happy.

This week, Henry got a phone call from Vancouver.

One of her past clients went down there to attend a meeting with the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The gatherings are intended to collect survivors’ stories so the commission can document the history.

“The TRC is supposed to be the positive end,” said Henry.

But like many, she criticizes the lack of support and follow-up offered to people who come and reopen very deep, dark wounds.

The past client who phoned, like most of Henry’s clients, found a home at CAIRS – a safe place to try and relearn traditional art and practices. Most of all, he found friends within Henry and her staff – people to call when he needed to talk.

“After the meeting, he started drinking again,” said Henry. “And he can’t afford to be drinking again.”

But the bad news from Vancouver isn’t the only thing bothering Henry.

While the fundraiser went well, it also drew attention to First Nations’ indifference to their own people’s problems.

Throughout the entire five hours, only one First Nation government called in.

The Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation pledged $500, and while on-air, challenged all other First Nations to meet and beat its pledge.

Out of all the other 13 First Nations, only one call came in from the Kwanlin Dun Health Department with a pledge of $200.

“I really hope the communities have something for their survivors because this showed me that residential school is not a priority,” said Henry.

But Henry knows there isn’t much out there. She spent nearly three months travelling at the request of many of the First Nations this past fall.

“And once this place is gone, there is going to be nothing,” she said about CAIRS.

The territorial government hasn’t made much of an effort either – despite what was said in the legislative assembly this past week.

“I have been in consultation on several occasions with the CAIRS Society with regard to their funding,” said Glenn Hart, Minister of Health and Social Services on Monday. “In fact, this government has forwarded letters to the federal government requesting additional funding to suffice the CAIRS Society with their funding toward enabling them to continue on with their valuable service.”

“I have not heard one word from him,” said Henry.

The Minister did respond to a letter written to him from the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Henry knows because the council forwarded it to her.

In that response, he mentioned he was forwarding the council’s letter to Ottawa.

But Henry never received a response to the letter she wrote and hand delivered to Hart’s office. Nor did she receive any response from him or Premier Dennis Fentie after she invited them to CAIRS’ Christmas open house, she said.

In the legislature on Monday, Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell continued to question the government and Fentie spoke up.

He talked about how CAIRS was established under the federal Aboriginal Healing Foundation and how that money had a mandated end.

“Everybody’s passing the buck,” said Henry. “Residential school is not just Harper’s problem. Plus, they support organizations like the Salvation Army. If they are funding the Salvation Army aren’t they funding residential schools too, because who do they think hangs out there?”

But there are significant differences between CAIRS and the Salvation Army, especially when it comes to alcohol and drugs, said Henry.

Still, Henry is grateful to all the individuals who supported CAIRS through the fundraiser, she said.

“The majority of them were just regular Joes.”

The $9,000 will cover another month’s rent, utilities and wages for herself and the one other staffer, she said.

CAIRS’ current building on Fourth Avenue is inefficient and half of it cannot be used, so the rent is ridiculous, she explained.

“So today, we still have no real future plans,” she said. “But tomorrow could be different. It’s always a different day.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

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