Talking helps healing after residential school

AHF commits $23.4 million to Inuit projects so far


Angus Cockney says being encouraged to take up competitive skiing by a keen coach kept him going through an otherwise traumatic period as a young student at the Grolier Residential School in Inuvik.

Cockney, who is now a director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, told the 20 or so people who showed up at the AHF’s regional gathering last week that his self esteem suffered, but the positive legacy from his residential experience was resilience – something the AHF wants other residential school students to draw on, as money for its healing programs dries up.

The AHF was established in 1998 and given $350 million by the federal government to support healing that addresses the legacy of abuse from the residential school system – but in 2009 it’s due to wind down its activities.

In Iqaluit, AHF board members and staff gave an update on what the foundation has done and looked at how its work can continue after its funding ends in March 2007.

As the AHF now starts to review what it has accomplished, research shows nearly 60,000 people participated in AHF-sponsored healing projects.

According to a survey of participants, talking was what helped them the most.

“We found there was a tremendous silence about residential schools,” said Gail Valaskakis, the AHF’s director of research. “Talking about residential school is healing in itself.”

Traditional healing, such a healing circles and ceremonies were also among the strategies that worked the best, participants said. Over two-thirds said their guiding philospohy was based on aboriginal values, traditions, culture, environment or practices.

The AHF survey found men respond best to active therapies. Women like to work with women, with youth particularly wanting direction from and contact with elders.

“For Inuit, culture, language, traditions and values are particularly important to the healing projects,” Valaskaksis said.

So far, the AHF has handed out or committed $390 million. About six per cent of the funds – over $23.4 million – have been committed to Inuit-specific projects, such as the recently approved healing projects managed by Tungasuvvingat Inuit in Ottawa and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Inuit attended residential schools in Inuvik, Chesterfield Inlet, Churchill and in various communities where students were housed in hostels to attend federal day schools.

“Inuit access to the healing fund is one of our foremost concerns – Inuit have been identified by the AHF board as a priority group,” said Richard Kistabish, the vice-president of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Inuit now have access to Inuktitut-language applications, unlike other First Nations groups, Inuit can still submit proposals, and proposals under $75,000 can be approved quickly. However, all projects must end before the AHF closes shop.

Already, during 2004, the bulk of the foundation’s workload will shift from proposal processing to project monitoring, publishing research and producing a final report.

Before it stops operations, the AHF also plans to produce a children’s book in Inuktitut and a history book on the residential school experience. With the national Inuit women’s group, Pauktutiit, the AHF will produce another study on Inuit healing and traditional knowledge.

It’s unlikely the AHF will get more funding. The federal government, said AHF’S finance director, Ernie Daniels, is moving into a new phase and settling litigation cases with residential school victims. Over the next 10 years $200 million will go to language and culture programs instead.

As its funding begins to disappear, the AHF is also looking at ways to stretch the money, through partnerships and a new foundation called the “Legacy of Hope Foundation.”

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