'It's heartbreaking': Indigenous artists mourn possible cuts to culture fund under review by PCs
Indigenous Culture Fund established in response to TRC calls for action
The Ontario government says it is reviewing a fund for Indigenous culture that was set up in response to calls for action from Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Indigenous artists and the provincial NDP, however, say that the review is actually a $2.25 million cut that's set to come into effect this year.
The Indigenous Culture Fund was set up last year and is administered by the Ontario Arts Council. It supports First Nations, Inuit and Métis community-based cultural projects. The province was to make annual contributions of $5 million.
A statement from Ontario's tourism, culture and sports ministry issued on Friday confirmed that a review will take place but did not say whether funding was cut or by how much.
I've seen a lot of beautiful work come out of the initial round of grants.-Melody McKiver, musician and youth worker
"Our government is reviewing the Indigenous Culture Fund to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently to maximize the impact of Indigenous cultural support," said Brett Weltman, press secretary for Michael Tibollo, the minister who oversees the portfolio.
He went on to say that those who have already received grants through the fund will "not be affected" during the process.The Ontario Arts Council continues to support Indigenous artists through a number of other grant programs, Weltman added.
'Cut off at the knees'
The NDP's culture critic Jill Andrews said a cut will mean that Indigenous staffers who administered the fund will be laid off. It will also necessitate considerable budget cutbacks and a "significant" reduction in arts and cultural programming, she said.
"Mr. Ford's cuts are a disturbing attack on both the arts, and on reconciliation efforts in Ontario. This is another example of how the Ford government continues to drag Ontario backwards, especially targeting marginalized communities," Andrew said in a news release.
"Arts communities and Indigenous people deserve better."
Aylan Couchie, an Anishinaabe writer and artist from Nipissing First Nation, said the cut in funding is shocking but not surprising. She said there is currently $2.75 million left in the fund.
"It's disappointing that this crucial program has been cut off at the knees before it was even given a chance to flourish and nurture our communities as we find our way back to what was lost through residential schools," she said.
"It's very sad for me to see it just being sort of slashed without it even being given a chance to see what it could do for our communities. It's heartbreaking."
She said the fund was intended to help to rebuild traditional culture, revitalize languages and foster knowledge. It was also designed to support programming targeted toward young people and elders.
Melody McKiver, a musician and youth worker of Sioux Lookout, Ont., said the cut is regressive because the fund was supporting "grassroots" Indigenous efforts. McKiver received a grant from the fund.
"I've seen a lot of beautiful work come out of the initial round of grants and I think there's a lot of potential that remains in this fund that was cut off short because of what I believe to be pure malice," McKiver said.
With files from Olivia Stefanovich