B.C. reveals plan for $12M residential schools fund, announces new First Nations liaisons

The B.C. government has outlined how it plans to use $12 million to support First Nations and residential school survivors, as the country reels from the discovery of hundreds of children's graves at former residential school sites.

The province says First Nations communities that are located beside residential school sites can apply for up to $475,000 for work related to residential schools and survivors.

That funding can be used for searching former school sites, archival research, engagement work with elders and survivors, and engagement with other communities.

The funding can also be used to bolster mental health supports and services for survivors and their families.

The province says that $2 million of the $12 million will be dedicated to improving the province's supports and services for residential school survivors and Indigenous peoples.

B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations Murray Rankin says the province's plan is to let First Nations communities guide the next steps.

He says the province will make it easy for communities to access these resources.

"This will not be a complicated bureaucratic process," he said at a news conference Tuesday. "We know this is a difficult time and we want the resources to be readily available and easy to access."

Grants will also be "fast-tracked" by the province, but the timing of distribution is flexible so that communities can work at their own pace, according to Rankin.

NEW FIRST NATIONS LIASONS

The province has also appointed two First Nations liaisons who will work with communities and guide them through funding process.

The liaisons are Charlene Belleau, former Chief of Esk'etemc First Nation and former chair of the First Nations Health Council, and Lydia Hwitsum, former elected Chief of the Cowichan Tribes and former chair of the First Nations Health Authority.

"We've been waiting for this day for a long time," said Belleau on Tuesday, adding that she is a survivor of the St. Joseph's Mission Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C.

She said that her great grandfather also attended the school, and took his own life there.

"They buried him there without telling our family," she said. "I look forward to finding my great grandfather so that we can have closure."

Belleau said that many Indigenous peoples are looking to their ancestors and traditions for strength as searches of residential school sites continue across Canada.

She said the values that residential schools were designed to "destroy" – such as First Nations culture, identity, language and traditions – are the things that "will now be our strength" in the days to come.

The liaisons will also provide advice to the B.C. government on reconciliation and its support of residential school survivors.

The province says that Belleau and Hwitsum will be crucial for communication between First Nations and the B.C. government.

"I acknowledge the trauma that Indigenous peoples continue to experience as a result of the colonial legacy of residential schools, and I grieve with the families and communities as we grapple with recent findings and the findings yet to come," said Rankin in a statement.

"We know it's going to take time, technical resources and emotional and cultural supports to provide what Nations require to navigate this difficult time, and these funds and liaisons are designed to support them in whatever way they need." 

In total, B.C. was home to 18 residential schools and three hospital sites. The last residential school in B.C., St. Mary's residential school located in Mission, closed in 1984.

For immediate assistance to those who may need it, the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.