Indigenous reconciliation funding approved for Saskatchewan culture camp

Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen and diocesan Discernment Circle Chair Gordon Martell pray together at the recent launch of a Covenant Statement articulating the vision of the local Circle that will support projects applying for funding from the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund (IRF) established by Canada's Catholic bishops. The national IRF has identified its first project - a First Nation cultural camp near Kamsack, SK, proposed by the Archdiocese of Regina. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – Nine months after Canada’s Catholic bishops committed to it, the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund (IRF) is up and running.

With $4.6 million in the bank so far, the $30-million Fund’s all-Indigenous national board of directors approved its first project on July 15.

The first project funded will be the Cote Culture Camp Saskatchewan, northeast of Regina. The language- and land-based camp in Kamsack is operating from July 18 to 22, putting “children and youth in practical touch with their language, ceremonies, history and heritage through land-based instruction and continuing language classes,” said Archdiocese of Regina spokesperson Eric Gurash in an email.

The Archdiocese of Regina has committed $15,000 of its $2 million in pledged IRF funds to support the Cote Culture Camp. So far, the archdiocese has collected $1.53 million toward its $2 million IRF goal.

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With the money finally flowing, the University of British Columbia’s Indian Residential History and Dialogue Centre called the Catholic reconciliation fund a “positive step.”

“The centre is cautiously optimistic about the Catholic Church’s commitment to raising $30 million in support of healing and reconciliation,” acting executive director Kristin Kozar told The Catholic Register in an email.

The bishops voted to set up the IRF in the wake of discoveries of over 1,000 possible unmarked graves of children at several residential school sites a year ago. The fund will raise $30 million over a period of five years.

A national outpouring of sympathy and outrage over the discoveries led to a meeting between Pope Francis and Inuit, First Nations and Métis delegations in March, then the Pope’s personal apology in Rome on April 1. Pope Francis is expected to deepen that apology on behalf of the Church when he visits the site of the Ermineskin Indian Residential School in Maskwacis, south of Edmonton, July 25.

The Métis National Council is happy to see the fund up and running, but the organization still has concerns about how it was set up.

“While we are happy for those whose projects will be approved and that residential school survivors will be supported further, this fund has been created through acts of economic reconciliation from Catholic parishioners, and not the Church itself, which holds immense wealth and has the capabilities to provide this funding on its own,” said MNC spokesperson Steve Sutherland in an email. “This fund was not created in consultation with the Métis Nation, and as such, we have outlined our own path of truth, reconciliation, justice and healing that we have invited Pope Francis, the Vatican and the CCCB to join us on in support of Métis survivors, families and communities.”

Indigenous Reconciliation Fund projects are proposed and approved at the diocesan level before they come to the fund’s national board of directors. For any local project to gain final approval, the diocese must have raised the money and deposited it with the IRF.

The national board has its own criteria for approving projects, said the IRF board’s newest member.

“One of the unfortunate things that happened immediately at residential schools was loss of language,” said St. Thomas University chancellor Graydon Nicholas. “We’ve lost culture. The loss of identity, and also the loss of Indigenous spirituality — those components are then taken into consideration for what can be done.”

Given the failure of Catholics to raise $25 million in a “best efforts” campaign that ran between 2008 and 2013 — that campaign fell $21 million short of its goal — the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre is watching closely this time around, said Kozar.

“While the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund is a positive step, we are concerned that this new commitment not be broken and that funds make their way to survivors and their families and communities,” she said.

The bulk of the money committed to the IRF is coming from large, urban dioceses. Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg, St. Boniface, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Vancouver have collectively committed to $20 million. Toronto and Hamilton combined account for $10 million of that total.

The four-person IRF board is “looking forward to distributing funds as quickly as possible in support of reconciliation projects across the country,” said board chair Chief Wilton Littlechild.