Emergency debate on Aboriginal Healing Foundation

MPs are scheduled to hold an emergency debate Tuesday evening about funding cuts to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, according to Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

MPs are scheduled to hold an emergency debate Tuesday evening in the House of Commons about funding cuts to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, according to Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

Aboriginal groups across the country are asking that federal funding, due to end Wednesday, be restored to the foundation.

The foundation was established in 1998 with a $350-million grant from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to help former students who were physically or sexually abused in the residential school system.

The foundation gives money to more than 130 groups and initiatives across the country, including women's shelters and the Yukon-based Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools.  It also funds 12 different projects in Nunavut that support former residential school students.

"For many Inuit, the 12 programs we have in Nunavut have provided the first opportunity to begin a healing journey. The autonomy of the AHF has been the key to the success of these programs," Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Paul Kaludjak said in a news release.

President of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Okalik Ejesiak , says various First Nations and Metis leaders will be in Ottawa for the debate and that they only have one message for the Harper government.

"The point is for us that the Aboriginal Healing Foundation continue … because they have a relationship with the communities and the communities know them," said Ejesiak.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus says cutting the funding violates the Residential School Settlement Agreement.

"When the Truth and Reconciliation commission goes into a community, then there are services available in the system — services like the one provided by the AHF. So, unless there is funding there to assist, you're going to leave a huge gap," said Erasmus.

Last week, Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said the foundation wasn't meant to last forever.

"The Healing Foundation has done good work, but it was never meant to be a permanent policy, a permanent service deliverer of the federal government," said Strahl.

The Ottawa-based non-profit foundation is run entirely by aboriginal people.