August 22, 2019 3:21 pm

Aboriginal arts organization forced to cancel conference plans due to Ontario funding cuts

Ontario has eliminated an Indigenous Culture Fund as the government cuts tens of millions of dollars in arts funding.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Shrestharth Ghosh
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After the Ontario government eliminated the Indigenous Culture Fund earlier in 2019, some Indigenous organizations have been left without funding.

The Aboriginal Arts Collective of Canada (AACC) previously received $25,000 from the Indigenous Culture Fund through the Ontario Arts Council (OAC). The funding was administered on behalf of the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

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Dawn Setford, the founder and president of the AACC, said now that the Indigenous Culture Fund has been eliminated, the organization does not have enough funding to continue some of its efforts to preserve Indigenous arts and tradition.

READ MORE: Ontario government eliminates Indigenous Culture Fund, cuts millions for the arts

Setford said she used the money to hold a conference earlier in March to teach Indigenous women about the spirituality behind the techniques of Indigenous arts and tradition. She said they brought in elders and artists who taught the participants about drum-making, ancient basketry, porcupine quilling, and caribou tufting — important ancient Indigenous art forms lost as time passed.

Without the funding, Setford said she’s unable to hold another a similar conference in 2020.

“I won’t be holding another one next year because I don’t have that funding,” said Setford.

READ MORE: Ford government cuts funding to Ontario Arts Council, impacting Indigenous Culture Fund

“I can’t foresee having another conference without the support of the Indigenous Culture Fund and other funds that are similar,” she said.

Additionally, Setford said there is a difference between how Indigenous individuals perceive art and how non-Indigenous people do.

“Our art is completely based on spirituality and culture. In everything we make, there’s symbolism to a story, reference to a map or a pattern,” she said.

Dawn Setford (pictured in black) at the Indigenous Art Conference in Ottawa in March at the ribbon skirt workshop.

Shrestharth Ghosh / Fuzd

The Ford government cut arts sector support to $6.5 million from $18.5 million in May. The Ontario Arts Council was set to receive $10 million less in funding in 2019, which resulted in the elimination of the Indigenous Culture Fund.

However, Setford said the Indigenous Culture Fund did more than just support the arts.

“The Indigenous Culture Fund did not just support our artistic endeavors, so when somebody sees that that programming or funding was cancelled, it’s not just that we can’t paint anymore,” she said.

“That funding was actually very sensitively directed towards reclamation of our language; mentorship that helped us to relearn and then teach our children.”

Setford said the funding was meant to help them revitalize their languages, songs, performance art and traditional art, adding the fund also helped Indigenous women to gain momentum and relearn their traditions.

“We came together, a group of a couple hundred women, and we gathered in order to make sure that the original purposes of our arts weren’t forgotten,” she said.

READ MORE: Doug Ford to move ahead with Ontario municipal funding cuts in 2020

“That’s why this really hurts. Because generally speaking, we as Indigenous women were just getting momentum. We were just coming back to pride and not being afraid.”

A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport recently provided Global News with a statement regarding the cuts.

“The government believes that all artists, including Indigenous artists, play an important role in sharing cultural practices and strengthening communities’ well-being,” the statement read.

With respect to the elimination of the Indigenous Culture Fund, the spokesperson said it still supports Indigenous art in other ways.

“A $60-million investment in the Ontario Arts Council is seeing the continuation of numerous core programs that support Indigenous artists, musicians, and other individuals,” the statement continued.

READ MORE: A list of cuts and changes Doug Ford has made this year as he tries to balance the budget

The programs cited by the government include Indigenous Arts Projects and Indigenous Presenters in the North: Music Projects.

Meanwhile, Setford said without the Indigenous Culture Fund the organization doesn’t have any other options in terms of funding.

She said the AACC is a Canada-incorporated not-for-profit organization that can’t afford to move forward and become a charity. Setford said corporations are more likely to give money to charities so they can claim it as a charity donation.

“Our funding is really limited to government sponsored councils, such as the OAC,” she said.

“Without the ICF, the Canada Council for the Arts is inundated with proposals and funding is spread thin – leaving gatherings like ours without any funding.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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