Aboriginal Healing Foundation

Aboriginal Healing Foundation

What Happened

In the 2010 Federal Budget, the government of Canada decided not to renew funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The organization had to terminate partnership with over 120 community services that aid large populations of Aboriginal peoples who have suffered through traumas from the Indian Residential School System.

The 2010 budget concluded that $199 million would be directed towards Health Canada to continue to assist former students and their families who have experienced abuse in the Residential School System. But Aboriginal leaders assert that those programs are not as effective or unique in their purposes such as that of the AHF.

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF), as a community-driven and community-based organization, undertook projects such as addiction treatment, residential healing centres, counseling, on-the-land programs, parenting skills training, and women’s shelters. This work was complemented by the AHF’s comprehensive and internationally-recognized research agenda. The AHF is the only Aboriginal-managed funding agency mandated to support community-driven healing initiatives addressing the Indian Residential School’s intergenerational legacy.

The cuts

The Conservatives announced in the 2010 federal budget that they would no longer support the AHF and its nation-wide community initiatives after March 31, 2010.

Justifying the decision, the Indian Affairs Minister, Chuck Strahl, said that “the foundation’s funding was never meant to last forever.”

This course of action provoked Aboriginal leaders from across the country to meet with the Prime Minister. On March 30, 2010, federal opposition leaders called for a rare emergency debate in the House of Commons, pleading to extend funds for this unique organization.

An additional $125 million grant was request but the government maintained its decision not to renew funding. The money — $199 million — went instead to help Canada’s counsel students and survivors through a Health Canada plan. The government asserted it would provide better access for victims but Aboriginal leaders claimed that these programs would not be as effective since they were not as specific and unique as the AHF.

The cuts were spurred the circulation of a national petition to extend support for the AHF.

In the words of Lou Ann Stacey, interim executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, one of AHF’s partners, “it’s sad because it’s [been] 10 years of gaining trust of women.. and now we might not be able to support them..”

Dene National Chief, Bill Erasmus, stated that cutting funds violates the Residential School Settlement Agreement, which had been approved federally to compensate Aboriginal communities in the aftermath of residential schools. The termination of funds for the AHF contradicts the spirit of the apology given by Prime Minister Harper for the establishment of the Residential School System and further contradicts the Truth and Reconciliation Program, instituted by the government to provide Aboriginal families the opportunity to speak about their experiences with the help of healing programs.

Projects terminated, voices lost

Between the 2010 federal budget to the end of the foundation’s mandate in 2014, the organization has or will terminate more than 100 national initiatives, although eleven regional projects will continue. Without additional funding from the AHF, 125 projects have either terminated services completely or have lost a significant portion of funds but continue to run some programs with alternative funding, mainly from the government, according to AHF Executive Director Mike Degagné.

The Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal is one project that helps 200 women annually in the healing process from past sexual abuses and also supports twelve projects in Nunavut that serve the Inuit people to overcome past traumas experienced in the school system. Programs that were specific to the organization’s partnership with AHF — such as therapy and psychological help sessions — have terminated, while other programs still continue to run using alternative funding.

The 11 remaining projects of the AHF will continue until December 31, 2013, and are mainly larger healing centres across the country that provide in-patient therapy. Current funds left are enough to support these services for the remaining duration and the foundation itself will close its doors around March 31, 2014, says Mike Degagné.

Other Aboriginal-focused organizations, such as the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO), the First Nations Statistical Institute (FNSI) and the Sisters in Spirit documentation project, have also been abolished or scaled down. 

Relevant Dates:

  • 1998: The Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF) is founded when it receives a $350 million grant from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
  • March 5, 2010: The Federal Budget announces that funding for the AHF will not be renewed.
  • March 30, 2010: An emergency debate between Aboriginal leaders and the Harper government is held, in the attempt to extend funding for the foundation.
  • March 31, 2010: The federal government maintains its decision to no longer support AHF initiatives, forcing the organization to close doors on 125 projects with 11 projects still remaining.
  • March 31, 2014: At approximately this date, the AHF and the current remaining 11 projects will shut down completely.

Role or Position

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF) is an Ottawa-based national, non-profit corporation established in 1998 with a $350 million fund to support community-based healing initiatives that address the intergenerational legacy of physical and sexual abuse suffered in Canada’s Indian Residential School System. Since 1998 the AHF has provided over 1,300 grants to First Nations, Inuit and Metis projects — in urban, rural and isolated communities — across the country.

Implications and Consequences

  • Democracy: While other healing initiatives exist, those who have experienced abuse or discrimination in the Indian Residential School System will no longer have access to treatment for past abuses through a foundation as comprehensive and unique as the AHF. This results in the undermining of resources for Aboriginal peoples and of the democratic commitments of successive Canadian governments, especially in light of the Prime Minister’s apology and the Truth and Reconciliation Program.
  • Equality: Aboriginal groups across Canada will have lost an important source of funding for the harm done by the Indian Residential Schools. It will have an impact on particular health and support services developed by and delivered by Aboriginal peoples.
  • Freedom of Speech: The termination of funding for AHF programs undercuts voices of the Aboriginal community that have shared their stories of abuse with healing centres and community groups for years. Most of these services will no longer be available and the unique opportunity for survivors of the school system to speak up will be lost. 


Date published: 28 November 2012

Logo of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.