By Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun June 23, 2012

A successful after-school program for Downtown Eastside aboriginal and disabled youth is shutting down because the Treasury Board has frozen a $22-million grant to Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth — a national program designed to enhance the economic, social, cultural and personal prospects for off-reserve youth.

RedFox Healthy Living Society, a non-profit group that was counting on a $85,000 grant to keep its programs going though the year, is closing down after six years, said executive director Emma Sutherland.

“We’re a healthy-living skills and employment training program for aboriginal youth and youth with disabilities. We operate on an absolute shoestring and we serve over 200 kids a month, and with the special events we do throughout Metro Vancouver each year we reach over 15,000 children and their families,” she said.

The program has won a number of awards and is considered “a best practice” by the provincial government, said Sutherland.

RedFox is active in 10 schools and community centres in East Vancouver and was planning a number of events that would have involved aboriginal youth during the summer holidays — the most important time of the year for the program.

The freeze on releasing the funds to the various Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth (CCAY) centres across Canada is incomprehensible, said Vancouver East NDP MP Libby Davies.

B.C. organizations have received about $3 million in funding with half being spent in Metro Vancouver.

“This is going to have a drastic impact on aboriginal youth. This is a critically needed, front-line service that has been wiped out,” said Davies. “We’re hoping that a quick response will put enough pressure on the minister to have the decision reversed.”

In parliament Thursday, Jean Crowder, NDP MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan, asked Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan to explain why the Treasury Board froze the funding when he had earlier stated that the cultural connections program would be safe from cuts.

Duncan said he had just met with the national president of the organization and “we are concerned about this issue.”

He said the government wanted to realign the program to “meet our current needs for skills training development and job readiness.”

Crowder reminded the minister that Thursday was National Aboriginal Day. “These are programs that keep kids off the streets and keep them going to school. Staff have been laid off, doors closed and uncertainty has grown around the cultural connections. This is a blow to the great work that friendship centres do across the country,” she said.

Sutherland said cancellation came after RedFox had already spent $25,000 in anticipation of the grant being renewed.

“We’ve been operating on an agreement that our program was accepted for funding on April 1. That has been the way the government has forced us to operate. We had to deliver programs but they made us wait for the money.

“We have spent $25,000 and expected that money to come in but now they’ve told us they’re cancelling the whole program. We’re shutting down almost immediately,” she said.

The federal grant of $85,000 accounted for 70 per cent of the society’s operating budget.

One of the programs planned for the summer was a geocaching project in partnership with Telus, which was designed to get inner-city kids out of their neighbourhoods and into regional parks.

“It would teach them about technology and get them out of the city but the program was contingent on getting CCAY funding. We were at the point where we were going to take Strathcona students and give them something to do in the summer and now we’re scrambling,” said Sutherland.

Paul Lacerte, executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, said the loss of programs would have a devastating effect on at-risk aboriginal youth.

“At the worst it means we are going to lose some youth. These are very vulnerable young people. We have people who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and we are keeping them from conditions where they are going to overdose. We also have a massive problem with young people in terms of self-harm.

“So all the indications are that this will mean lives, for sure,” said Lacerte.

“For at-risk youth, trust is hard-earned and easily lost. Now their support worker has lost his job and has bills to pay and needs to find another job the kid will say ‘yeah that’s what everyone in my life has done — given me the illusion of a relationship then have it all disappear.’”
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Date: Monday Jun. 25, 2012 4:09 PM PT

Another federal funding freeze is putting a Vancouver program for aboriginal and disabled youth in jeopardy.

The Red Fox Healthy Living Society encourages children to get active, learn leadership skills and get in touch with cultural traditions. Red Fox’s Emma Sutherland told CTV News that the program can make a big difference in young people’s futures.

“Youth that started in our program are working full time, they’ve gone to college to get training in recreation and food security, they have great relationships with their friends and family, they’re graduating from high school, they’re resolving conflict,” she said.

But a federal grant that makes up 60 per cent of Red Fox’s funding has been put on hold, putting the entire program at risk.

“This came as a huge shock. We were told that it had been approved by the federal budget, had passed the review process, and then when it went to the Treasury Board, all of a sudden the story changed,” Sutherland said.

“I believe if the federal government were to actually look closely at what’s happening across Canada, they would applaud what we’re doing and not take away our funding.”

Red Fox has already spent $25,000 in anticipation of the funding, which normally comes in around this time of year. The funding freeze means that summer programs have now been cancelled.

The money used to come through a national program called Cultural Connections, which also supports similar programs across the country. Vancouver East NDP MP Libby Davies described the sudden uncertainty for those groups as “reprehensible.”

“These organizations are small organizations. They need to know what their funding future is; they have to pay people every month,” she said.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan faced questions about the funding freeze last week in the House of Commons.

“We will be realigning the program to meet our current needs for skills training, development and job readiness for aboriginal youth, so we’re putting the train back on the tracks,” he told MPs.

Duncan wasn’t available to answer questions Monday, but his press secretary issued a similar statement about the program for aboriginal youth, saying, “We are concerned that it is not currently meeting their most pressing needs.”

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Maria Weisgarber

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