On discovering that their funding from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which runs out on March 31, will not be renewed, the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM) found their organization in a desperate situation. Reaching out for support, they called on Michael Ignatieff, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, to attend a public meeting in Montreal on March 14.

NWSM executive director Nakuset said she did not even get a phone call from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF), but saw the news online.

Though the NWSM provides live-in shelter services for Native women and their children like any women’s shelter does, it also offers a number of services that most Native shelters don’t.

The AHF was an Aboriginal-managed national fund that supported community-based healing efforts addressing the intergenerational legacy of physical and sexual abuse in Canada’s Indian Residential School System. Established in 1998, the organization was supporting 134 community projects nationally.

For the NWSM, over the last decade these funds provided for the employment number of coordinators, different varieties of therapists and healers who would come to the shelter to treat their marginalized clientele. Without the funding, the NWSM is back to being a skeleton of the organization that it once was.

Addressing the crowd of 200 NWSM staff, supporters and media, Ignatieff made a commitment to take this issue to the top and fight for community funding in various capacities.

“We need to invest in our social economy, which means daycares, women’s shelters and community centres that aid immigrants,” said Ignatieff.

“One of the things that is happening in Canadian politics that I think your question is picking up is that the Conservatives want to lower the ceiling. They want to block up the windows and doors and they want to say that there are no alternatives. We have dug you into a $56 billion hole and we are the only guys who can get you out. There is no alternative to the fiscal framework that we are in so Aboriginal healing centres, I am sorry, you have got to go.”

He went on to say that his role is to remove these barriers to show Canadians that they have an alternative to the Conservatives.

Nakuset said she felt as though the few hours spent with Ignatieff at the Centre Lajeunesse for the public meeting did make a difference for her and the organization because of the show of both his support and that of the public.

“We were happy to hear people get up and say they are taking this issue very seriously and that they are going to do something about it. That is more than what I could have even asked for,” said Nakuset.

At the same time, Nakuset admitted she was nervous about “biting the hand that feeds” her organization when it comes to the federal government because the organization receives other federal funding that she is afraid to lose.

For Nakuset the loss of this funding is devastating for their clientele of approximately 200, about 176 come in for the outreach services that were paid for by the AHF. Many of these individuals lived outside of the shelter but came in for the services. Some women had even been flown down from northern Inuit communities to take advantage of the available programs and services.

Without a renewal of the AHF funds, Nakuset said the NWSM will have to “get creative” when it comes to continuing to provide services for their clientele.

“It would be great if (the government) would continue to give money to the shelters and to see the importance of them and to recognize the incredible work we have done. We have done awesome work and we are continuing with it. We have an awesome staff and this is a shame,” said Nakuset.

For those looking to tell the federal government that they do not agree with the current funding cuts to the AHF and would like to see their funding reinstated, an online petition is available at: