Women protesting aboriginal program cuts arrested

Six women protesting cuts to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation were arrested Monday on Parliament Hill.

Six women protesting cuts to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation were arrested Monday on Parliament Hill.

The women are members of the Montreal-based group Missing Justice, which is devoted to raising awareness about aboriginal women who have been killed or gone missing.

They began a sit-in at the office of Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl inside the Confederation Building just after noon and were removed by RCMP soon after.

The women demanded that funding be restored to the foundation, which funds more than 130 groups and initiatives across the country that work with former residential school students, including women's shelters and the Yukon-based Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools.

Funding for the foundation will end March 31.

"By cutting the funding to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and having us arrested for protesting these cuts, Harper is denying effective services to thousands of residential school survivors," said Maya Rolbin-Ghanie, one of the Missing Justice members arrested Monday.

Programs in danger

In a statement in Whitehorse last week, Strahl was clear on the termination of funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which 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 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.

Protester Mary Jane Smith, herself a former student of a residential school, said that if the foundation folds, it will put the agencies and projects that have been funded by it at risk.

"I really hope a miracle will happen and that something will change that … let['s] us keep on with our initiatives and our support to survivors," said Smith.

The protest was broken up by the RCMP shortly after it began.

"That Strahl would have us arrested less than an hour after our sit-in began shows that this is something he doesn't want the public to talk about," said Monica van Schaik, a member of the Missing Justice group.

Physical, sexual and mental abuse

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were placed in more than 130 residential schools across Canada from the late 1870s until the last school closed in 1996.

The schools were government-funded and meant to prevent parents from being involved in the "intellectual, cultural and spiritual development of aboriginal children," according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was set up to document the stories of former students.

Many students were forbidden to speak their native language or practice their culture at the schools, which were run by churches. Many were also physically, sexually and psychologically abused.

With files from Brian Boyle