Open Letter to Doug Ford & the Ontario PC Party
To Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario PC Party,

In 2008, your Federal predecessor, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, stood before the House of Commons and under the eyes of fellow MPs from all parties and Canadians watching from coast to coast, delivered a long awaited apology, on behalf of Canadians, for the Indian Residential Schools system. Former Prime Minister Harper prefaced his speech as a “sad chapter in our history.” In his apology, Mr. Harper stated:

“two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. These objectives were based on the assumption Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, ‘to kill the Indian in the child’. Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.”

he continued,

“The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian Residential Schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language [...] The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long. The burden is properly ours as a Government, and as a country. [...] You have been working on recovering from this experience for a long time and in a very real sense, we are now joining you on this journey.”

Mr. Ford, we do not see the Ontario Conservative Party joining us on this journey. In fact, we see the Ontario Government willingly turning away from it and the hard work put forth by our communities to rebuild after the Indian Residential School legacy and other harmful policies. Indigenous communities have undergone decades of systematic destruction of culture and languages enacted and enforced through government legislation. The wide scope of the Indigenous Culture Fund (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 is separate and not focussed on art or arts projects; the ICF funds cultural projects designed to revitalize Indigenous communities, connect youth and elders, and reclaim Indigenous knowledge systems and languages. In the community of Nipissing First Nation, the ICF is funding a project which teaches community members about traditional harvesting, foraging and gardening methods - a project which not only engages our community in Anishinaabe ways of being, but also addresses issues of food security. This is just one of many unique and necessary projects funded by the ICF, the scope of possibility for meaningful programming the fund could provide is limitless.

Mr. Ford, this fund directly addresses Stephen Harpers assertion that “we are now joining you on this journey” towards recovery AND the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.
The Indigenous Culture fund was designed by Indigenous communities for Indigenous communities through an extensive consultation process. It allows Indigenous communities to identify their own needs and create programming which best responds to it. In its short existence, the Indigenous Culture fund was changing lives. Language learning and cultural reclamation are powerful steps towards empowerment and healing. Over a million Indigenous Canadians today can not speak their languages because their parents or grandparents were prevented by force from speaking theirs. Within each language are embedded our worldviews, our histories, our laws. They are who we are.

The Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Michael Tibollo, has responded to our letters of concern by providing us with a list of other Ontario “Indigenous” funding initiatives, but none of those programs respond to community need in the way in which the ICF does.

Mr. Tibollo’s list includes Indigenous arts grants and funding for Indigenous museums - but the Indigenous Culture Fund isn’t about the arts or curation. His list includes the Ontario Cultural Attractions fund and Indigenous Tourism Ontario - but those programs have nothing to do with Indigenous community initiatives to maintain and revitalize our knowledges and languages, in fact, those initiatives are meant for Ontario to promote its own tourism industry. Our culture should be worth more to Ontario than just a tourist commodity. Finally, Mr. Tibollo referenced the Trillium Grant - a fund the PC government also recently slashed by $15 million dollars. The Trillium Grant is also not earmarked for Indigenous people and with a smaller pot, our chances of accessing those funds dwindles.

We are concerned the Ontario PC government does not realize what it is they have cut and, we fear, are looking to completely dismantle. None of the other funding programs forwarded by Minister Tibollo, nor the upcoming Indigenous economic initiatives cited by Minister Rickford on February 19th address community need in the way the ICF does. Not one of these cited grants or programs fund learning of Indigenous cultural practices or 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, we’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,”. 11 (2) “states shall provide redress through effective mechanisms…”

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 be given the opportunity to determine our own paths to (re)connect with culture and languages and in doing so we expand the potential for our future generations. We ask that the Ontario PC government support Indigenous knowledge, Indigenous languages, our culture, our people and our futures by reinstating the Indigenous Culture Fund in full.

Signed in support and solidarity (see form at bottom of page to add your name),

Aylan Couchie, new Anishnaabe language learner, Artist/Writer, Nipissing First Nation ON
Ashley Bomberry, Arts & Culture Worker, Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River, Toronto ON
Melody McKiver, Anishinaabe, Lac Seul FN/Sioux Lookout ON
Danis Goulet, Cree/Metis, Toronto ON
Jesse Wente, Anishinaabe broadcaster and writer, Toronto ON
Cindy Blackstock, Gitxsan, Ottawa ON
Kent Monkman, Toronto ON
Hayden King, Executive Director, Yellowhead Institute, Toronto ON
Wanda Nanibush, Anishinaabe curator, Toronto ON
Rebecca Belmore, Artist, Toronto/Member, Lac Seul First Nation
Ryan Aronienes Rice, Associate Dean OCADU, Kanien'kéhaka, Tkaronto
Alicia Elliott, Six Nations of the Grand River, Tuscarora, Brantford ON
Eve Tuck, Associate Professor, OISE, and Unangax, Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, Alaska, Toronto ON
Michael Greyeyes, Nêhiyaw/ Actor/ Director/Assoc Professor, York University, Toronto ON
Gisele Gordon, Toronto ON
Christi Belcourt, Michif, Espanola ON
Tanya Lukin Linklater, Alutiiq, North Bay ON
Susan Blight, Anishinaabe Nation of Treaty #3, Toronto ON
Andray Domise, Pickering ON
Jill Andrew, MPP Toronto-St.Paul's NDP Culture Critic, Toronto ON
Cara Gee, Ojibway actor, Toronto ON
Terri Monture, Six Nations of the Grand River, Mohawk, Toronto ON
Thirza Jean Cuthand, Little Pine First Nation, Toronto ON
Elwood Jimmy, Nehiyaw and Nakawe, Toronto ON
Peter Morin, Associate Professor, OCADU, Tahltan Nation, Toronto ON
Erica Violet Lee, Nêhiyaw nation, University of Toronto, Toronto ON
Vanessa Dion Fletcher, Potawatomi and Lenape, Toronto ON
Migizi Bebaayaad, Nipissing First Nation, Perth ON
Clayton Windatt, Executive Director, Aboriginal Curatorial Collective, Sturgeon Falls ON
Veldon Coburn, Carleton University, Ottawa ON
Alex Wilson, Opaskwayak Cree Nation, University of Toronto, Toronto ON
Ian Mosby, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Guelph, Toronto ON
Jason Baerg, Interim Chair of Indigenous Visual Culture OCADU, Toronto ON
Sage Paul, Dene artist, designer, artistic director, Toronto ON
Chief Lady Bird (Ogimaa Kwe Bnes), Anishinaabekwe, Eagle clan, Chippewas of Rama First Nation ON
Monique Mojica, Actor/playwright/dramaturg, Guna, Rappahannock, Cayuga, Toronto ON
Quach George, Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma and Mohawks of Akwesasne, Tkaronto ON
Monique Aura Bedard, Artist, Oneida, Tkaronto, ON
Mike Restoule, Nipissing First Nation ON
Santee Smith, Kahnyen’kehàka Nation, Six Nations ON
Zoe Todd, Ottawa ON
Lindsay (Swooping Hawk) Kretschmer, Executive Director, Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council, Toronto ON
Kayleigh Speirs, Administration Manager, Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre, Fort Frances ON
Joanne Payne, Indigenous Student Midwife, Ryerson, Brampton ON
Deanna Nebenionquit, Anishinaabekwe, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek
Virginia L. Goulais, Grand mother, Loon clan, Nipissing First Nation ON
Thohahente, Kanyen'kéhaka, Rotinosione, Ganaraska ON
Shane Camastro, anishinaabe-métis artist & educator, Tkaronto ON
Lucille Atlookan, Eabametoong First Nation, Thunder Bay ON
Melanie Laking, Shawanaga First Nation, Toronto, ON
Christian Quequish, Weagamow Lake First Nation, Sioux Lookout ON
Sabrina Sawyer, Indigenous Education Advocate, Mnjikaning (Rama) First Nation, Brantford ON
Maggie Cummings, Anishinaabekwe, Curve Lake First Nation ON
Mary Beaucage, Nipissing First Nation, North Bay ON
Keenan Aylwin, City Councillor, Barrie ON
Min Sook Lee, OCAD U, Toronto ON
Liz Ikiriko, Nigerian (Ijaw) curator, grad student, Toronto ON
Rebekah R. Ingram, Settler Academic/Researcher, Ganaraska ON
Kathy Kiloh, OCAD University, Toronto ON
Shani K Parsons, Critical Distance Centre for Curators, Toronto ON
Natasha Naveau, Dene/settler, Tkaronto ON
Christopher Camfield, Toronto ON
Liane Wintle, Kingston ON
Sheila COlla, Assistant Professor, York University, Toronto ON
Geoff McBride, Ottawa ON
Andrea Breen, Associate Professor, University of Guelph, Toronto ON
Michelle Miller, OCAD University, Toronto ON
Elaine Brindley, Toronto ON
Gordon Hatt, Kitchener ON
Chris Darton, Métis, Port Colborne ON
Elaine Emberg, Caledon ON
Sarah Jones, Toronto ON
Rick Gregory, Newmarket ON
Gomo George, Artist African/Canadian, Toronto ON
Denise Deby, Ottawa ON
Bryan Winters, Student, Nunatsiavut beneficiary, Toronto ON
Sasha Duval, HUU AY AHT, St Catherines ON
Sarah Williams, Ottawa ON
Paul Gresch, Mississauga ON
Mary MacDonald, Bloomfield ON
Linda Klan, Toronto ON
Madeleine Beaupre, Toronto ON
Alyce Dunnewold, Ottawa ON
Theresa Wojtasiewicz, Toronto ON
Spencer Julien, Fellow, Royal Society of Arts, Toronto ON
Kim Graydon, Oakville ON
Sylvia Johnston, Ottawa ON
Carolyn Davidson, Guelph ON
Vivian Tran, Toronto ON
Morgan Lay, Toronto ON
Mr. Peter Steele-Mosey, Toronto ON
Stephanie Woodworth, PhD Candidate, University of Ottawa, Ottawa ON
Ann Brown, Ottawa ON
Susanne Wilson, Guelph ON
Cynthia Kennedy, Uxbridge ON
Emily Hunter, Ottawa ON
Stefan Hostetter, Toronto ON
Wanda vanderstoop, Distribution Director at Vtape artists, Toronto ON
A.W. Peet, Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto ON
Felicity Tayler, Librarian, University of Ottawa, Ottawa ON
Katy Tearle, Toronto ON
Emma Westecott, Associate Professor, Toronto ON
Lesley McLean, Toronto ON
Pierre le Houte, Parry Sound ON
Sally J Burke, Toronto ON
Daniela Bonamico, Toronto ON
Janet Lawless, Greely ON
Brandon Rhéal Amyot , President, Fierté Simcoe Pride, Orillia ON
Eric Lawton, Pontypool ON
Kathryn Tait, Toronto ON
Tarquinius Davidson, Anishnawbe Nation (Neyaashiinigmiing, On), Toronto ON
Tannis Nielsen, lecturer, OCADU, Etobicoke ON

**DUE TO LACK OF DOCUMENT SPACE Continued List of Supporters can be found at this link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1V_-Av76Zf44Z9ZXmAi9fb0eWHcn3uYBgHswQzUr4ZMQ/edit?usp=sharing

Add your name to this Open Letter here:
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Title and/or Affiliation and/or Nation (type N/A to leave blank) *
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Queen's Park rally for the Indigenous Culture Fund: Tuesday, February 26th 12pm to 1pm - see Facebook event for more details: https://www.facebook.com/events/315096129354156/

Please direct questions or comments to aylan@aylan.ca
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