Toronto Council Fire lays out the case for a Indian Residential School Survivors monument at the south-west corner of Nathan Phillips Square

1:52 p.m. Oct. 26, 2017 The south-west corner of Nathan Phillips Square.

Oct. 27, 2017

By Arianne Robinson

What to do with the south-west corner of Nathan Phillips Square at Toronto City Hall?

Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre has been developing an idea of a healing garden, set around a turtle structure, based on the traditional Indigenous story of Turtle Island (referring to North America).

The proposal includes an unveiling ceremony and three days of workshops planned for Oct. 9, 10, and 11, 2018, in Nathan Phillips Square, with 100 bright teepees to represent First Nations and Indigenous people living in Toronto.

Toronto Council Fire member Andrea Chrisjohn told Mayor John Tory they have raised $3 million from other levels of government and would like $1 million from the city to make it $4 million total. Chrisjohn said they have commitments of $1.5 million from the provincial Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, and another $1.5 million from the federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

In response to a question from Tory about how solid the commitments were about funding, Chrisjohn said, “The commitments that we have are very specific to this project and I believe that what the two levels of government are actually committing to is the Action 82 itself [of the Truth and Reconciliation Final Report], the visibility. On a federal level, what that looks to be is bringing in the residential school survivors themselves. There’s still about 3000 that are still alive in this region.”

Tory said he was happy with that answer but was cautious about whether the funding is there for the project now. “It’s on us more as governments, more so than it’s on you in terms of being able to know these things are solid.”

A September presentation created for the Aboriginal Affairs and Executive Committees from the director of Arts and Culture Services for the Economic Development and Culture department supports Toronto Council Fire’s plan. “The Province of Ontario, through the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, is investing $1.5 million and working with Indigenous partners and residential school survivors across the province to establish an Indian Residential School Survivors (IRSS) Legacy monument in Toronto. The monument will be a site of learning, healing and reconciliation, and is projected to be installed in October 2018. Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre (TCFNCC) is leading the process for the Toronto project.”

However, a spokesperson for the provincial body said the funding commitment for the project is not immediate.

Signal Toronto reached out to both the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to confirm the funding commitments.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation responded via email: “A total of $1.5 million over three years has been set aside to fund this project, as part of Ontario’s $250 million commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, through our landmark action plan, The Journey Together. Our ministry maintains an arms-length approach, striking a balance between the independence of Toronto Council Fire as the project lead and accountability for the use of public funds.”

The statement also read that funding of the structure is not tied to this particular location. “The location of the legacy structure is still being determined through discussions with Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, the City of Toronto and the province. Indigenous communities need to tell their own stories so in keeping with the TRC’s call to action, it is essential that residential school survivors are consulted and actively involved in this project. That is why Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre has been leading consultations on the legacy structure project.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada did not confirm the status of funding by the time of publication.