Tina Fontaine's slaying is the latest manifestation of deep-seated problems affecting all Canadians. There is an understandable need to assign responsibility, to demand that government provide answers to the families of the 1,200 missing and murdered aboriginal women and to put effective preventive measures in place.
But it is not just government that is charged with neglect of aboriginal issues.
At around the same time as we were mourning Fontaine's death an article by Don Marks appeared in the Free Press (First Nations rarely see charity meant for them, Aug. 18) blaming Canada's charitable sector for failing aboriginal peoples.
Marks said: "Many of the leading foundations in Canada identify aboriginal peoples or culture as a priority." He then cited a study by Delia Opekokew alleging charities and philanthropic foundations allocate little actual money to aboriginal issues. "Many Canadians make donations to those foundations believing their money will be used to improve living conditions for First Nations people," he wrote. Let's be clear, private foundations such as the Gordon, Joyce and McConnell foundations that he singles out use their own funds to make grants -- they do not solicit public donations.
Marks states that in 2012, The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation made "only one aboriginal culture grant, out of 10 grants listed that year, for $217,000, which was given to Corporation du Wapikoni mobile in Montreal."
Actually, of more than 200 grants we made that year, about 20 had an aboriginal focus. Our grant to Wapikoni -- an award-winning Quebec organization that has enabled 2,000 aboriginal youth to produce videos and music recordings -- supports their plan to extend this program across Canada. That $217,000 was an initial payment on a three-year commitment totalling $520,000. Other aboriginal-focused grants in 2012 supported national initiatives in education, community sports and notably, in the field of aboriginal-focused philanthropy.
At issue here is the sad fact that less than one per cent of charities focus on aboriginal issues at all. Of 599 foundations that funded aboriginal-dedicated charities in 2011, only 113 made four or more grants.
As Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society explained in her seminal 2002 paper, Same Country; Same Lands; 78 Countries Away, the legacy of colonialism and the residential school system includes chronic misunderstanding and mistrust between charities and aboriginal peoples. For too long, foundations and charities have left aboriginal issues to government.
Overcoming this takes mutual learning, relationship building and partnership. The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada was founded in 2012 recommending systemic change in its call to action. Not just more, but different and better charity.
Here are three examples:
Cindy Blackstock and the Caring Society's work on Jordan's Principle and Shannen's Dream has awakened Canadians to the need for aboriginal children to have equitable access to health care and education and has generated policy changes. They have introduced child and family service agencies on reserves to the charitable sector, and vice-versa.
Paul Lacerte, executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, has launched the Moosehide Campaign, which invites aboriginal and non-aboriginal men to bear witness to the scourge of violence against aboriginal women and girls.
In Winnipeg's Point Douglas neighbourhood, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation is working with the community, the Manitoba government, United Way Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Foundation and other partners on The Winnipeg Boldness Project. This long-term effort aims to shift the way social services are delivered by placing children and families at the centre of an integrated, culturally appropriate system of early childhood and family development.
Philanthropy has always been part of aboriginal culture. While there are urgent needs to address, aboriginal-focused philanthropy also looks to long-term change, at the scale of generations. Charity did not save Tina Fontaine, but it can help ensure that in future all of our children grow up safely, with equal opportunity to achieve their dreams.
Stephen Huddart is president and CEO of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation.