The provincial government of Ontario diverged from Canada’s movement toward truth and reconciliation with its Native populations this week when it decided to cut millions of dollars from its major arts organizations, including the Indigenous Culture Fund (ICF) and the Ontario Arts Council (OAC).
As reported by the publication Canadian Art, Ontario cut the ICF’s budget by nearly half, reducing its $5 million (~$3.7 million USD) in funding to a slimmer $2.75 million (~$2.0 million USD). The OAC, which promotes cultural development across the province, also received a $5 million cut to its nearly $70 million budget (~$51.9 million USD). According to Global News, that was a particularly harmful cut to the OAC considering that the organization’s budget was supposed to increase to $80 million (~$59.3 million USD) by 2020.
“The Indigenous Culture Fund could have been essential for allowing Indigenous communities to take an active role in repairing the losses incurred due to the legacy of residential schools,” Anishinabek Nation Lake Huron Region Chair Scott McLeod said in the Sault Online this week. He added that the fund, which just started in 2017, “has been cut off at the knees before it was given a chance to flourish.”
Artists are already mobilizing to petition and protest the Ontario government’s decision. “We know that the four staff that administered the Indigenous Culture Fund programs are being laid off,” Nehinaw filmmaker Danis Goulet told Canadian Art. “And artists are some of the lowest-paid workers in the country, so it’s really frustrating when monies for them are cut.”
Goulet recommends that others upset with the budget cuts sign and circulate petitions, which are available on the website of Anishinaabe artist Aylan Couchie.
“I was a beneficiary of the [Indigenous Culture] Fund and received support to bring a Cree language teacher to Ontario to teach a group of Cree Ontarians their language,” Goulet details in a letter posted to Twitter. “My father speaks Cree, but I do not. The class had an enormous impact on all the participants, including my 11-year-old son.”
“Language revitalization is not just incredibly healing for those people and communities who no longer speak their language, but it is a benefit to all Ontarians,” Goulet adds. “It is so important to support the preservation o this knowledge.”
Below is the letter that I emailed today to @fordnation and @MichaelTibollo to call for the reinstatement of the Indigenous Culture Fund at the Ontario Arts Council. #ONpoli #TRC #Indigenous pic.twitter.com/eXfOC7Cmkq
— Danis Goulet (@danisgoulet) December 14, 2018
Barely a week into his tenure as Ontario’s premier, Doug Ford quashed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission curriculum-writing sessions, which were intended to increase Indigenous content in Canadian schools last July. Ford’s education minister, Lisa Thompson, then said that “all ministries will seek to carry out initiatives in the most cost-effective way possible,” according to CBC.
Similarly, a spokesperson for Ford’s tourism, culture, and sports minister Michael Tibollo said in a statement that the government is reviewing the fund “to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used responsibly and efficiently.” He also noted that individuals who have already received grants through the ICF will not be affected.
The Ministry of Indigenous Affairs has not yet responded to media inquiries for comment about the cutbacks.
“It’s an example of the conservatives dragging Ontario backwards from bad to worse,” Andrew said in a telephone interview with National Observer. “We need to take responsibility and stand firmly and support the action items that came out of the TRC. The Ford government is not doing this.”
ICF is only a year old. It was created as a low-barrier bridge between underserved communities and much-needed grant money and programming.
Jesse Wente, director of the Indigenous Screen Office, told Canadian Art that he believed the damaging effects of the cuts would ripple throughout the art world. “There is an incredible need for trained Indigenous arts administrators right across the sector in Canada,” he said, “So the loss of any positions of this type, and of the talent in those positions, is deeply concerning.”
Though the government has said that the cuts were needed to help balance Ontario’s $15 billion debt (~$11.1 billion USD), the budget cuts only a represent .05% of that amount. For the organizations about to lose their funding, that money is everything.