Mr. Speaker, I am greatly pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the Aboriginal Healing Foundation this evening with my colleagues. I feel strongly that we would be remiss if we did not take the time tonight to acknowledge the difficult but critical work that the Aboriginal Healing Foundation has undertaken over the last decade on behalf of Canadians.
The foundation was established with a clear mandate in 1998 and all of those involved with this non-governmental organization should be applauded for their ongoing commitment and tireless pursuit of a better future through healing.
My comments this evening will outline the path our nation has taken over the past decade, recognize and highlight the foundation's accomplishments, and convey a message to the foundation about our hope that its transition phase goes smoothly.
As one of only a handful of nations who have apologized for how past generations treated aboriginal people, I am proud to be a Canadian.
Some of us may remember Australia's landmark apology to its native people in 2008, and all of us will surely remember that on June 11, 2008 the Prime Minister made an apology, on behalf of all Canadians, right here in the House of Commons.
I think we can all agree that the apology certainly represents a giant step forward toward reconciliation and progress.
National Chief Fontaine noted at the time of the Prime Minister's 2008 apology that it would benefit all Canadians because it opens the way to restoring public consciousness about the history of the first nations in this country.
An example of this kind of change can be found in the government's substantially revised and recently published guide to citizenship in Canada. The guide is a significant departure from the version crafted first in 1995.
Notably, the 2010 edition of the guide introduces the concept of three founding nations: aboriginal, French and British. For the first time, Métis leader Louis Riel is introduced to new Canadians. This important document, which communicates a summary of our history and culture, no longer skips over the history of our aboriginal people. Rather, it speaks the truth and duly notes the important role that aboriginal people have played, and continue to play, in our nation's cultural fabric.
I have learned that the act of listening and speaking the truth can play an enormous role in our nation's healing process. Dr. Judith Herman, whose book Trauma and Recovery is widely considered a landmark work on the social impact of psychological trauma and its treatment, states that “Recovery requires remembrance and mourning. It has become clear from the experience of newly democratic countries in Latin America, eastern Europe and Africa that restoring a sense of social community requires a public forum where victims can speak their truth and their suffering can be formally acknowledged. Like traumatized individuals, traumatized countries need to remember, grieve and atone for their wrongs in order to avoid reliving them”.
It is this spirit of recovery that inspired long overdue discussions between key parties of our nation's historical landscape, and in the end through research, conciliation and negotiation, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was concluded with the approval of all parties: the Government of Canada, former students, churches, the Assembly of First Nations and Inuit organizations.
Just as Canada's apology to its aboriginal people marked an historic international milestone, so too does the significance of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement extend beyond our borders.
This agreement is an important part of the reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. It is the first time that a country has recognized, in both words and deeds, the negative effect that its policies and actions had on its first nations.
As members heard this evening, it is important to note that the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement features five main elements:
a common experience payment; an independent assessment process; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada; commemoration activities; measures to support healing such as Health Canada's Health Support Program and an endowment to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
It is here in this last item, number five, measures to support healing, that we find the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation predates the agreement by nearly a decade, but this aboriginal-run not-for-profit foundation was established only after discussions were held with survivors, members of the healing community, the Assembly of First Nations, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council and the Native Women's Association of Canada.
Strictly speaking, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation's original mandate was to disperse a Government of Canada one-time grant of $350 million starting on April 1, 1998. As explained in 2010-15 corporate plan, the foundation defines its role as follows:
We see our role as facilitators in the healing process by helping Aboriginal people and their communities help themselves, by providing resources for healing initiatives, by promoting awareness of healing issues and needs, and by nurturing a broad, supportive public environment. We help Survivors in telling the truth of their experiences and being heard. We also work to engage Canadians in this healing process by encouraging them to walk with us on the path of reconciliation.
Now as we come to the inevitable winding-down phase of the foundation, it is clear that the foundation's approach was indeed successful in achieving its objectives. I can say this with certainty because, as required in the settlement agreement, the government conducted an evaluation of the healing initiatives and programs undertaken by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
The evaluation was tabled in the House of Commons earlier this month and underlines the financial and project management skills of the organization. It was a comprehensive evaluation that included the review of 108 documents and literature sources as well as all administrative files, such as annual reports and case studies, interviews with 35 key individuals from the foundation, relevant government departments, aboriginal organizations, project directors from foundation-funded projects and subject experts from across Canada, and a total of 8 community case studies based on 145 interviews with participants and key stakeholders at locations across Canada.
As hon. members may have noted, I referred to the winding down of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation as inevitable. This is the important point worth emphasizing. The foundation was never intended to be a permanent organization. The organization's annual report, corporate plan and initial mandate all make this perfectly clear.
Given this reality, no one should be surprised that the Government of Canada chose not to allocate new funding to the foundation. For more than 12 years, the expectation has been that the foundation would begin a winding-down phase. We are not talking about any kind of cut to any kind of funding. In fact not only is the word “cut” misleading but it does a disservice to the excellent planning the foundation has undertaken in its wind-down strategy, as well as its prudent dispersal of substantial funds, a total of $515 million since 1998, which the Government of Canada has allocated to it.
According to the foundation, the wind-down strategy is to take place over a period of three years. During this time, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation will fulfill the remaining work of its mandate through the publication of annual reports, corporate plans and newsletters as well as the production of five more major research projects. In addition, the foundation will begin to reduce staff and space at a gradual and planned pace.
The Government of Canada remains committed, as ever, to providing support to all of its citizens, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal. In fact, it is through an investment made by this Conservative government that the Aboriginal Healing Foundation will fund the operation of 12 healing centres across the country through to 2012. In addition, the Government of Canada will fulfill its continuing obligation to provide emotional and mental health supports directly to former Indian residential school students and their family members participating in the settlement agreement through a program operated by Health Canada.
The resolution health support program provides mental health and emotional support services directly to former students and their families as they participate in the various components of the settlement agreement. These include professional counselling services, paraprofessional services through aboriginal community-based workers, culturally appropriate supports through elders and transportation to access supports not available in the home community.
I reiterate that this government has also funded additional initiatives designed to provide support directly to survivors of Indian residential schools, and these include the national Indian residential school crisis line and future care awards. Future care awards are provided through the independent assessment process outlined in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
Through this assessment process, claimants may receive future care awards for treatment or counselling services totalling $10,000 for general care and $15,000 if psychiatric treatment is required. To date, the average independent assessment process award is $125,000 and the average future care component is over $8,000. It is also important to note, and members will know, that all of this support will be provided during a time of much-needed fiscal restraint. Although Canada has returned to economic growth following the deepest global recession since the 1930s, the global recovery remains extremely fragile, as the recent 2010 budget speech indicates.
Before closing, I believe it is important to summarize the government's commitments to date in cold hard numbers. The Government of Canada will invest more than $5 billion to implement all components of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Budget 2010 committed net additional resources of $199 million toward the implementation of the settlement agreement, which will conclude in 2014.
The Government of Canada has provided $515 million to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation since its inception in 1998. These funds include the endowment of $125 million granted as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and have supported community-based healing initiatives. These numbers testify to the fact that Canada acknowledges that the Indian residential school system is part of the shared experience that is our nation and validates the important role that counselling plays in healing and in reconciliation.
The community-based work of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation has not only been crucial to our vision of a just and caring society but has also successfully created a lasting and positive legacy out of a tragic episode. I am confident that my hon. colleagues will join me in committing all sides of the House to move forward and pursue a bright future for all Canadians.