Sundog carved down

The future of the Sundog Carving Studio is in question after territorial funding for the nonprofit organization was cut off this spring. In November, the organization was given a $145,000 grant from the territory to hire counsellors and carving instructors.

The future of the Sundog Carving Studio is in question after territorial funding for the nonprofit organization was cut off this spring.

In November, the organization was given a $145,000 grant from the territory to hire counsellors and carving instructors for its advanced carver program.

The understanding was the money would be renewed in April.

But that didn’t happen. Now the centre, which uses traditional First Nation carving as a method to build life skills and confidence in youth, is looking at ways to trim its budget.

“It means we’re just going to have to cut staff,” said co-owner Andrew Finton. “It’s not good news for us.”

Sundog has already taken out ads to rent out the carving studio space.

“The landlords have been hounding us to know whether we’ll be around come June,” said Finton.

“We haven’t been able to afford to renew our lease.”

The Justice Department funnels $345,000 a year towards the Journey Far advanced carver program.

This covers the cost of materials and rent as well as a monthly stipend paid to each of the advanced carvers for the work they do.

But that leaves little more than $100,000 to pay seven staff for the year-long course, said Finton.

With the money they receive now, the group can’t afford a full-time carver.

“What school has an instructor come in for one week every six weeks?” said Finton.

It also isn’t enough to hire badly needed counsellors and life coaches for the students.

The money the territory provided this fall made a significant difference to the program, he said.

“Before there were several jobs that weren’t being done as well as they should have been because we were just too strapped for time.”

He sees the shortage indicative of the overall lack of funding going into First Nation programming in the territory.

The Yukon needs to be doing more for First Nation youth, he said, citing a 65 per cent dropout rate among aboriginal students.

Finton and his wife, Heather, who co-runs Sundog, figure the organization needs an additional $400,000 a year to be financially sustainable.

The government has offered $75,000 to help pay for rent this year, but the money won’t be renewed come 2011. That means another staff position will have to be cut next year, said Andrew Finton.

The couple is now talking about stepping back from their administrative positions so money from their jobs can be used to pay for other staff.

“The question is, can we keep parts of our programming running without adequate funding?” said Heather Finton.

If Sundog doesn’t receive increased funding for the Journey Far program it may have to be discontinued, she said.

That worries many students and their parents.

Many of the students who attend Sundog struggle with addictions, lack of housing and low self-esteem.

Sundog’s success has been its ability to take students who can’t apply themselves in high school and give them new direction in life, said parent Dianne Villeseche.

Her own daughter left high school at the age of 16. Now Villeseche’s daughter carves full time with Sundog where she has learned to hone her artistic skills and build her confidence. After three years at the studio, she’s working to graduate from high school and has plans to turn her carving into a full-time career.

“This program is teaching her how to make a living,” said Villeseche.

“It’s brought up her self-esteem to a point where she’s helping herself now.”

Last week, Heather Finton gathered the 20 advanced carvers in a circle and told them their funding wasn’t going to be renewed next year.

The news wasn’t taken lightly.

“I was crying, I was really sad,” said Bianca Martin, who has been a carver at Sundog for four years.

“I know Andrew had a vision to have this place going for the next 20 years.”

The 15 carvers in the advanced carving program have drafted a petition calling on the government to provide sufficient funding to the carving studio.

“This course has given so much to the community,” said 21-year-old Ben Gribben.

“It’s about taking an average person and transforming them into something more. I’m a vision of that.

“I wouldn’t have known about my (First Nation) culture if Andrew and Heather hadn’t taken me in.”

This week the board of directors is expected to decide how it will re-jig its budget to deal with the shortage of funding.

Justice officials declined to comment before the board makes it decision.

However, they did note Ottawa had provided $2.6 million to the carving program over the next five years. But that grant can only be used for new projects. It can’t be used to pay for existing projects, such as the Journey Far Advanced Carving Program.

Contact Vivian Belik at

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