Question Period: Support for Indigenous Cultural Centres

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, this question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.

Knowing, understanding and celebrating culture is essential to humanity and, with the horrific discovery of this past week, it’s even more essential than ever. As I said yesterday, over a number of years I have worked with First Nations, developing feasibility studies and goals and strategic and financial plans to develop cultural centres to enable that understanding of Indigenous history, art and traditions. Lack of federal — and, I must say, provincial — funding as well as bureaucratic red tape curtailed the realization of those needs and dreams. I believe the need is even greater now than it was during those six years of the first decade of this century when I was intimately involved.

In addition to supporting the search for more Indigenous children’s remains across the country and supporting the families and communities dealing with this unimaginable tragedy, what will the government do to support the Indigenous cultural centres, which can be ongoing places of healing, learning, culture, tradition and contemporary knowledge? Surely such support would be important steps toward reconciliation.

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question, senator.

The government knows that Indigenous-led cultural centres play an important role in moving forward on Canada’s path to reconciliation and healing with Indigenous peoples.

Thanks to your advance notice of the question, I was able to make some inquiries and inform myself on the matter. I was directed to and will direct your attention to the following: Budget 2021 proposes to provide $13.4 million over five years, with $2.4 million ongoing, to Canadian Heritage for events to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools to honour survivors, their families and their communities, as well as to support celebrations and commemoration events during the proposed national day for truth and reconciliation. There is also Budget 2019’s investment of $60 million over five years, beginning in 2019-20, to support capital infrastructure investments in friendship centres that might play a role designing cultural centres and offering culturally appropriate programs and services.

Finally, colleagues, I want to underline the importance of listening to the wishes of Indigenous peoples and supporting Indigenous-led initiatives. The government has heard loud and clear, and agrees that a top-down, government-led approach is not the best path to take.

Senator Bovey: I thank you for that, Senator Gold.

I just want assurance that Indigenous organizations will not have to go through the same steps that non-Indigenous organizations have to, such as being in operation and presenting successful programming for three years before they qualify for Canada Council funding.

Can you assure me, in working with Indigenous leaders, that the government will develop more appropriate pathways to financial support for Indigenous cultural organizations?

Senator Gold: Senator, thank you for that. I can assure you that the government will work and is working with Indigenous communities and their organizations to develop appropriate pathways to provide support for those initiatives.

I cannot give you assurances about Canada Council per se. I’m simply not apprised of the details of that, but the government approach to these matters is to work with Indigenous communities, their representatives and organizations so that we avoid and reverse the history of top-down, government-led initiatives in this area.

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