Aboriginal Affairs Committee learns funding for Indigenous program didn’t make it into 2018 city budget; organizers push forward anyway on plans

April 20, 2018

By Arianne Robinson

Andrea Chrisjohn, board designate of Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, told the Aboriginal Affairs Committee she wanted to bring the Restoration of Identity project “back to the table” after learning the $500,000 request from her organization did not make it through the 2018 budget process.

The project involves an architectural plan for the southwest corner of Nathan Phillips Square that will include a turtle sculpture by Solomon King, set amid grass and rocks. The intention of the space is to honour residential school survivors.

Chrisjohn was the one who spoke about the project at Mayor John Tory’s Executive Committee in October. The committee referred the decision to the Budget Committee, where the funding commitment was lost.

“We had a commitment for the $500,000 from the chair [of the Budget Committee] Gary Crawford, and then somewhere in the mix … it went back to proposal and approval for the November [council meeting] and it never hit the budget,” Chrisjohn said.

Mike Layton, co-chair of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee, was surprised to hear the 2018 budget did not carry the funding commitment as directed by the mayor’s Executive Committee.

“This [is] news to me,” Layton said at the committee.

“It was quite clear in 2017 that the direction and the recommendation from staff was to put half a million dollars into this,” he said.

While the architectural plans continue to get refined, Toronto Council Fire is focusing on plans for a three-day event in October, in Nathan Phillips Square, to honour residential school survivors.

The budget for the three-day program is between $750,00 and $1 million, and is expected to include 50 teepees between 16 feet and 22 feet in height, the unveiling of a replica of King’s turtle sculpture, workshops, films, food trucks, craft vendors, artificial turf, picnic tables, information booths, multiple stages and an elders tent.

“This is a project for our residential school survivors and I think it’s important because it’s going to be part of their healing process,” Chief Ava Hill of Six Nations of the Grand River said at the committee.

“[Without] their determination and their courage for stepping forward over the past six years to tell their stories to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission … our issues would not be at the forefront of the agendas in this country where they are now, so I always want to encourage them and thank them. I think this is a tremendous, tremendous legacy in their honour and I encourage us all to step forward too, and ensure that it’s completed,” Hill said.

The request for $500,000 was originally part of the $4-million budget for the sculpture and outdoor space.

In November, council moved for city staff to provide a feasibility study in the first quarter of 2018, and directed staff to work with Toronto Council Fire and the Nathan Phillips Square Community Advisory Committee.

The feasibility study is still expected to come before the committee.