In 2008, the Harper government apologized to Residential School survivors because we now recognize, regardless of our political affiliations, that the attempted eradication of Indigenous cultures was morally reprehensible and wrong. Former PM Paul Martin “call[ed] a spade a spade” and acknowledged that residential schools used education for cultural genocide. In a 2017 Ontario Government one-year progress report titled “The Journey Together: Ontario’s Commitment to Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples” stated:
“Culture and language are critical to forming personal identity and a distinct sense of self. Residential school survivors and their families have faced many challenges in this area. The forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families robbed the children of their identity and reduced parents’ ability to share their language and culture with their children. This has led to intergenerational trauma in many families. That’s why supporting Indigenous efforts to restore and celebrate language and culture are so important to long-term reconciliation efforts.”
The Indigenous Culture Fund (ICF) was created in 2017 as a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action and demonstrates the Ontario government’s commitment to Indigenous communities and peoples. The Indigenous Culture Fund was created with the purpose of “support[ing] cultural activities and programming in Indigenous communities, increasing opportunities for Indigenous people to engage in and share cultural practices, knowledge and learning.” The ICF has since gone through two rounds of application-to-approved project funding (Aug/Nov 2017 & April/May 2018). In December 2018, the Ontario Government announced it would be cutting the ICF from $5 million to $2.75 million and would be putting the program under review. In addition, while under review the ICF will no longer accept new grant applications, entailing the layoff of Indigenous staff hired to oversee the program.
I am writing you today as a constituent in your riding who is concerned about the future of the Indigenous Culture Fund and what its dissolution will mean for Indigenous communities and peoples in Ontario. As you are well aware, Indigenous communities have undergone systematic destruction of their culture and languages enacted and enforced through government policies. The wide scope of the ICF allowed for a multiplicity of Indigenous-led initiatives with a shared objective of reclaiming, preserving and revitalizing culture while repairing damages inflicted upon these communities. Though administered by the Ontario Arts Council, the Indigenous Culture Fund was separate and not focussed on art or art projects; the ICF funded cultural projects designed to revitalize Indigenous communities, connect youth and elders, and reclaim Indigenous knowledge systems and languages.
The Ontario Government’s cuts come at a time as the rest of the world enters the “International Year of Indigenous Languages” as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. To that end, the Indigenous Culture Fund can be seen as Ontario’s commitment to upholding many articles outlined within the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) including articles: 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 & 31. Of these, I’d like to draw your attention to Article 13 (1) “Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures,” and Article 11 (1) “Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect, and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures,”.
As Cree musician and artist Art Napolean says, “Language and worldview are inextricably linked and that language is the doorway to the soul of a culture. If language and worldview are in fact interrelated, then the eroding of a language is also the eroding of a culture.”
The scope of potential projects promoting cultural continuity for Indigenous communities is limitless, yet the fund is being cut preemptively before Indigenous communities or the Ontario Government has had a chance to fully realize the merits of the program or what could be achieved. We MUST provide Indigenous peoples the opportunity to determine their own paths to (re)connect with their culture and languages and in doing so they expand the potential for their future generations. I ask that you, as our elected Member of Provincial Parliament, support the Indigenous Culture Fund by reinstating its funding in full and ensuring it continues unhindered by the current provincial government.
Thank you for your concern and consideration with regard to this essential program.