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Letter addressed to the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations on sustainable funding for Indigenous-led organizations


September 21, 2020

The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, M.D., P.C., M.P. 
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0H4


RE: Sustainable funding for Indigenous-led organizations


Dear Minister Bennett,


I am writing to you in my role as Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime1 to encourage your leadership in providing sustainable funding for Indigenous community-based and grassroots organizations as you develop a National Action Plan to implement the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Calls for Justice. While existing organizations provide critical support to Indigenous victims and survivors of crime and gender-based violence, they are forced to rely on project-based, time-limited funding cycles and lack access to sustained funding sources to allow them to properly meet the overwhelming demand for their services.

Although the Indigenous population represents a small proportion of the Canadian population overall, we know that they are victimized at a much higher rate, and this is especially true for Indigenous women. In 2014, Statistics Canada found that Indigenous women were about three times as likely to report being a victim of spousal violence as non-Indigenous women. That same year, the RCMP found in a report on the number of MMIWG that nearly 70% of Indigenous women murdered between 1980 and 2012 were killed in their own homes. We also know that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated domestic violence and existing socio-economic inequalities, and has placed increased demand on already-overwhelmed shelters and frontline victim services. For Indigenous communities, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are heightened in every sense.

Despite these realities, according to Statistics Canada there were only 85 shelters for victims of abuse that had ties to Indigenous communities or organizations operating across Canada as of 2017/2018, and more than half (59%) of these shelters were located in rural areas. However, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous shelters in urban areas had higher occupancy rates than those in rural areas. Statistics Canada also reported that women and children in Indigenous shelters were younger, on average, than those in non-Indigenous shelters. This, coupled with over-capacity issues of women’s shelters – which is particularly an issue in small communities, rural areas and the North, where there are no accessible alternative options – not only results in victims remaining in abusive situations, but also raises a red flag for homelessness and increased vulnerability to human trafficking. The health and wellbeing of frontline workers is also at risk because of these realities; they are deeply affected by workplace stress, which is compounded by overwhelming demand in an under-resourced sector.

As we have heard consistently from the knowledge-keepers on our Indigenous Advisory Council, and as has been reinforced through the MMIWG final report and in subsequent calls to action since its publishing, the Indigenous community is where the strengths lie to address Indigenous wellbeing. Ensuring that Indigenous organizations have the resources they need to deliver culturally safe services is therefore the most trauma-informed approach, which recognizes the need to decolonize services and support systemic change.

Indigenous people and women especially, have faced experiences of systemic racism and discrimination from within Canadian institutions, making many reluctant to access help due to the potential exposure to traumatizing, or re-traumatizing, interactions. The history of colonization, residential schools, and their devastating impacts on Indigenous language and culture compound this distrust – as does the shortage of federally funded Indigenous-led services. This hinders Canada’s goal of improving access to justice, which is part of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals we have pledged to achieve.

The provision of culturally safe, relevant, and specialized services and supports for Indigenous victims of violence and abuse is critical. Many programs offer a combination of traditional healing methods and Elder-guided care or land-based healing programs, which using traditional medicines that come from the land to support healing for numerous traumas, addictions, and mental health issues. The common thread among these excellent programs is that they consistently lack the funds necessary to sustain their work.

The National Action Plan provides a ready opportunity to implement meaningful, systemic change for Indigenous peoples in Canada. I recommend the creation of sustainable funding streams for Indigenous-led grassroots and community-based organizations that support victims of crime and their families, so that they are empowered and well-equipped to meet the needs of their communities. Consistent underfunding of these organizations has perpetuated cycles of violence and abuse towards Indigenous women and girls, and causes further harm to Indigenous wellbeing – yet there are Indigenous-led solutions available. Fulfilling this funding provides an opportunity to support reconciliation by addressing a number of MMIWG Calls for Justice: 1.8, 3.2, 3.7, 4.3, 4.7, 4.8, 5.6 ii, 16.19, 16.29 17.20, 18.7.2 I also note that the MMIWG report was inaccessible to families; therefore, I take this opportunity to recommend that Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls be rewritten in plain English and shared widely with families.

I offer my support towards the achievement of these goals in my capacity as Federal Ombudsperson for Victims of Crime. I look forward to discussing this matter with you further.




Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime


Cc      The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., M.P., Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada


1 The mandate of my office is to help ensure that the rights of victims and survivors of crime are respected and upheld and that the federal government meets its obligations to victims.  This includes ensuring that victims and their families have access to federal programs and services specifically designed for their support.  In addition to our ongoing efforts to help individual victims, we also have a responsibility to identify and bring forward emerging and systemic issues that impact negatively on victims of crime at the federal level. In doing so, we work closely with victim service providers and a host of other government and non-government stakeholders on our common goal of building a justice system that better serves everyone in Canada.

2 1.8 We call upon all governments to create specific and long-term funding, available to Indigenous communities and organizations, to create, deliver, and disseminate prevention programs, education, and awareness campaigns designed for Indigenous communities and families related to violence prevention and combatting lateral violence. Core and sustainable funding, as opposed to program funding, must be provided to national and regional Indigenous women’s and 2SLGBTQQIA people’s organizations.

3.2 We call upon all governments to provide adequate, stable, equitable, and ongoing funding for Indigenous-centred and community-based health and wellness services that are accessible and culturally appropriate, and meet the health and wellness needs of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. The lack of health and wellness services within Indigenous communities continues to force Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people to relocate in order to access care. Governments must ensure that health and wellness services are available and accessible within Indigenous communities and wherever Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people reside.

3.7 We call upon all governments to provide continual and accessible healing programs and support for all children of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people and their family members. Specifically, we call for the permanent establishment of a fund akin to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation and related funding. These funds and their administration must be independent from government and must be distinctions-based. There must be accessible and equitable allocation of specific monies within the fund for Inuit, Métis, and First Nations Peoples.

4.3 We call upon all governments to support programs and services for Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people in the sex industry to promote their safety and security. These programs must be designed and delivered in partnership with people who have lived experience in the sex industry. We call for stable and long-term funding for these programs and services.

4.7 We call upon all governments to support the establishment and long-term sustainable funding of Indigenous-led low-barrier shelters, safe spaces, transition homes, secondstage housing, and services for Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people who are homeless, near homeless, dealing with food insecurity, or in poverty, and who are fleeing violence or have been subjected to sexualized violence and exploitation. All governments must ensure that shelters, transitional housing, second-stage housing, and services are appropriate to cultural needs, and available wherever Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people reside. 4.8 We call upon all governments to ensure that adequate plans and funding are put into place for safe and affordable transit and transportation services and infrastructure for Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people living in remote or rural communities. Transportation should be sufficient and readily available to Indigenous communities, and in towns and cities located in all of the provinces and territories in Canada. These plans and funding should take into consideration: • ways to increase safe public transit; • ways to address the lack of commercial transit available; and • special accommodations for fly-in, northern, and remote communities.

5.6 We call upon provincial and territorial governments to develop an enhanced, holistic, comprehensive approach for the provision of support to Indigenous victims of crime and families and friends of Indigenous murdered or missing persons. This includes but is not limited to the following measures:

ii Adequate and reliable culturally relevant and accessible victim services must be provided to family members and survivors of crime, and funding must be provided to Indigenous and community-led organizations that deliver victim services and healing supports.

16.19 We call upon all governments to develop and fund safe houses, shelters, transition houses, and second-stage housing for Inuit women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people fleeing violence. These houses and shelters are required in all Inuit communities and in urban centres with large Inuit populations. Shelters must not require full occupancy to remain open and to receive funding. Further, they must be independent from child and family services agencies, as women may not seek shelter due to fear of agency involvement. This action includes the establishment and funding of shelters and safe spaces for families, children, and youth, including Inuit who identify as 2SLGBTQQIA, who are facing socio-economic crises in all Inuit communities and in urban centres with large Inuit populations.

16.29 We call upon all governments and service providers, in full partnership with Inuit, to design and provide wraparound, accessible, and culturally appropriate victim services. These services must be available and accessible to all Inuit and in all Inuit communities.

17.20 We call upon all governments to fund and support programs for Métis women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, including more access to traditional healing programs, treatment centres for youth, family support and violence prevention funding and initiatives for Métis, and the creation of no-barrier safe spaces, including spaces for Métis mothers and families in need.

18.7 We call upon all governments and service providers to increase support for existing successful grassroots initiatives, including consistent core funding.