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Leaders push for funding of Aboriginal Healing Foundation

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OTTAWA - Pressure mounted today for the federal government to reinstate funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.

Aboriginal leaders from across Canada made a last minute plea to save the organization which provides counselling and other services to survivors of residential schools and their families. After 12 years, the federal funding for the foundation runs out in two days.

Ed Azure, director of the Nelson House Medicine Lodge in Manitoba, was moved to tears as he admitted he was standing with his hand out as a "beggar" asking Canada and Canadians to help.

"I know Canada has a heart," he said. "It’s shown itself time and time again. Haiti. Chili. When people are suffering. When people are in real need."

He said Canada and Canadians need to realize the legacy of residential schools is just as desperate a situation for First Nations people in Canada. People are committing suicide, others turn to drugs and alcohol.

"Bombs are going off in our communities," he said. "People are hurting themselves."

The Aboriginal Healing Foundation currently funds more than 130 projects across the country. There are 26 projects in Manitoba which will run out of funding March 31.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo said he has asked the federal government to commit $125 million over the next three years to keep the AHF alive.

Several of the First Nations leaders at a press conference on Parliament Hill today said if the government was serious when it apologized for residential schools in 2008, it would put some substance behind the words.

"Live up to the apology," said Assembly of First Nations Manitoba regional chief Bill Traverse. "Otherwise it is an empty apology, an empty promise."

Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton requested an emergency debate in the House of Commons today on the foundation funding. As well, six women were arrested by RCMP after staging a sit-in at Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl’s office over the lunch hour.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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