Canada's Indigenous Reconciliation Fund reaches major financial milestone after one year

Pope Francis greets people during a meeting with Indigenous peoples and members of the parish community of Sacred Heart Church in Edmonton, Alberta, July 25, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

MONTREAL (OSV News) – One year after its registration as a charitable organization, the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund (IRF) in Canada has gathered nearly CA$9.5 million ($7 million), which represents almost one-third of its CA$30 million ($22 million) goal.

The collected amount is from contributions of just seven of the 73 Catholic dioceses and eparchies in Canada, confirmed Rosella Kinoshameg, the fund's board chair.

In September 2021, the Canadian Catholic bishops committed to raising CA$30 million ($22 million) over the next five years, to support reconciliation initiatives benefiting Indigenous survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.

In January 2022, the bishops announced the IRF would be entrusted with fundraising and reviewing the healing projects submitted for approval by Indigenous communities.

Kinoshameg, a member of the Odawa-Ojibway First Nation and a survivor of the residential school system, is happy that a third of the goal has been reached. "And we still have four years to go," she said. Kinoshameg was hopeful about surpassing the goal set by the bishops.

The board anticipates an annual income of CA$5 million ($3.7 million) over the next three years, and CA$9 million ($6.6 million) for the fifth year.

So far, only two dioceses, Sault Sainte Marie and Victoria, and five archdioceses, Keewatin-Le Pas, Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina and Winnipeg, have sent part of their contributions.

Dioceses in Quebec or Eastern Canada have yet to contribute to the IRF. The Archdiocese of Toronto had promised an amount of CA$6 million ($4.4 million) over five years but hasn't paid any part of it so far.

Cardinal Thomas C. Collins, archbishop emeritus of Toronto, declared that "Catholics shouldn't have participated in the residential school system" when he announced the archdiocese's financial commitment. He also had promised that if fundraising in the archdiocese didn't reach the CA$6 million ($4.4 million) goal, he would make up the difference with diocesan assets. As of March 25, the Toronto Archdiocese is now led by Archbishop Francis Leo.

The IRF comes years after a failed previous fundraising effort by Canadian Catholic church entities. Following the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, intended to provide restitution for survivors, 48 Canadian Catholic entities – dioceses and religious congregations – had agreed to provide a total of CA$79 million ($58 million) in cash commitments and services in kind as well as through a national fundraising campaign.

The latter, called the "best efforts" campaign, only reached CA$3.7 million ($2.7 million). Court documents released in 2021 revealed that a 2015 court ruling confirmed Canada's federal government had freed the church from its remaining fundraising obligations.

This came to light months after the discoveries of unmarked graves of Indigenous children on the former sites of residential schools in 2021.

Kinoshameg revealed that 17 projects have already obtained funding from the IRF. The first funded project was a cultural camp for youth of the Cote First Nation, in Saskatchewan. The camp was held in the summer of 2022.

The IRF also subsidized a new edition of the book "Amongst God's Own: The Enduring Legacy of St. Mary's Mission," about the British Columbia residential school that opened in 1863 and was the last of that province to shut its doors in 1984. The full list of funded projects isn't published yet.

The IRF is a charity registered with the Canada Revenue Agency, and as such, can emit official income tax receipts for donations. The IRF also must report on its administrators, salaries and financial statements on an annual basis. In January 2022, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops promised "the Indigenous Reconciliation Fund will be managed in a way that ensures transparency and good governance."



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