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The Ontario government has taken an axe to a program that was designed to advance the province’s response to calls to action from the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Indigenous Culture Fund (ICF), an initiative of the Ontario Arts Council, just lost $2.25 million in funds for this year, according to a statement from the council obtained by National Observer, pending review by the Progressive Conservative government to “ensure taxpayer dollars are being used responsibly and efficiently to maximize the impact of Indigenous culture support.”

The council has lost $5 million in base funding, taking them back to the $64 million funding level of the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

Four Indigenous women in the ICF office have been laid off in the cuts.

Goals of the program include supporting Indigenous language revitalization and building capacity for knowledge sharing in communities traditionally overlooked by cultural granting offices.

Premier Doug Ford’s caucus, say artists, can expect pushback.

“It was there to revitalize culture. And that’s what Indigenous people need as part of the TRC,” said Aylan Couchie, an Anishinaabe writer and artist from Nipissing First Nation.

“Of course education to Canadians is great but you know, this is something that we needed for us.” Aylan Couchie, Anishinaabe writer and artist, says she’ll be pursuing alternative funding sources in the wake of Ontario’s cuts to the Indigenous Culture Fund. Photo courtesy of Aylan Couchie Barely a week into office, Ford’s government quietly eliminated TRC curriculum-writing sessions which were intended to increase Indigenous content in Canadian schools.

The cuts were made days before Indigenous elders and teachers were to arrive in Toronto to participate in the program, and explained as part of the Ford government mandate to improve efficiencies. A statement from Lisa Thompson, education minister, said that “all ministries will seek to carry out initiatives in the most cost-effective way possible,” reported CBC.

Couchie and Ian Campeau, a musician, advocate and co-founder of A Tribe Called Red, were planning to prepare grant applications to fund community-based projects next year. They’ve decided to forgo the ICF application in the event they take the place of other applicants who have less access to alternative funding sources.

The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, which oversees the ICF, says that applicants who have already received grants won’t be affected.

"Artists and arts organizations play an important role in building a strong economy while contributing to the quality-of-life of our communities," wrote Brett Weltman, press secretary to Culture Minister Michael Tibollo, in an email. "The previous Liberal government’s irresponsible handling of the province’s finances left us with a $15 billion deficit, and has forced us to make tough decisions."

In a review of the province’s finances released Monday, Financial Accountability Officer Peter Weltman indicated that the Ford government had overstated the deficit by $1 billion.

The Ministry of Indigenous Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

“These are callous cuts,” said Jill Andrew, the NDP’s culture critic and MPP for St. Paul’s, adding that the “implications are severe.”

“The arts community, and the Indigenous peoples, they deserve better,” she said, adding that the NDP will be calling on the government to restore OAC’s funding and to sustain programs such as the ICF, which are designed to serve historically marginalized communities. The government’s cut of $2.25 million to the Indigenous Culture Fund at the Ontario Arts Council is a disturbing step back from the TRC’s Calls to Action. This and the $5 million cut to @ONArtsCouncil ‘s base funding is an alarming attack on arts and culture. #onpoli #Culture https://t.co/4mRfTm3qVZ — Dr. Jill Andrew (@JILLSLASTWORD) December 14, 2018 “It’s an example of the conservatives dragging Ontario backwards from bad to […]

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