Aboriginal groups concerned over how grant money spent

A Red Deer contingent is unhappy that federal grant dollars designed to get homeless aboriginals back on their feet are ending up with non-aboriginal providers.

A Red Deer contingent is unhappy that federal grant dollars designed to get homeless aboriginals back on their feet are ending up with non-aboriginal providers.

Tanya Schur, executive director of the Red Deer Native Friendship Society, told city council on Monday that several aboriginal agencies were concerned with the decision-making process of the Community Housing Advisory Board (CHAB).

“Which agencies can give aboriginal people the best cultural support in terms of housing?” Schur said. “It’s not just about putting people into housing. It’s about providing the cultural wrap-around services.”

The Aboriginal Interagency Members — Red Deer Aboriginal Employment Services, Red Deer Native Friendship Centre, Rupertsland Institute and Shining Mountains LCS — wrote a letter to the City of Red Deer last week, saying that changes need to be made in how federal dollars are distributed through the housing advisory board.

The membership is concerned with the advisory board’s composition and decision-making process. The aboriginal community would like to recommend which individuals would best represent them on the board.

“Currently only one of the CHAB aboriginal committee members is attending meetings and carrying the entire responsibility of defending the needs of the aboriginal community,” says BJ Paddy, executive director of Red Deer Aboriginal Employment Services, in the letter addressed to the city.

“This situation is resulting in crucial funding decisions being made with regard to aboriginal housing dollars, without sufficient consultation or cultural understanding.”

“Perhaps this is why aboriginal-designated dollars end up in non-aboriginal agencies.”

Service Canada guides the City of Red Deer and the advisory board on the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) terms. City council provides official approval, but the CHAB, an ad-hoc committee of council, suggests which projects should get the money.

An official with Service Canada told the interagencies that preference must be given to an aboriginal provider when the target group is aboriginal individuals and families.

“This does not seem to be occurring within the City of Red Deer CHAB decisions,” said Paddy.

Schur said that the friendship centre’s housing support program funded earlier this year was awarded half of what it applied for. “Not receiving this funding will prohibit us from providing the important prevention and intervention services in our aboriginal community,” she said.

Scott Cameron, city Social Planning Department manager, replied that the aboriginal members are chosen to be on the board through the same and transparent method used for other city boards and committees.

“A core value of the Community Housing Advisory Board has been the use of consensus decision-making — an approach that is respectful of traditional aboriginal ways,” Cameron said.

The federal government doesn’t provide a definition of an aboriginal service provider, but the advisory board considers funding submissions that ensure that all homelessness programs are delivered in a culturally appropriate manner.

This is done when agreements are written up.

Council ruled that a decision on funding different programs of just over $1 million over the next three years would be postponed until Oct. 31 at the latest. That way, there could be more consultation involving the aboriginal community, Service Canada and the Community Housing Advisory Board.

Councillor Lynne Mulder said she anticipates it’s going to involve a lot of thought among everyone involved.

“We have to make a decision to get that money out in the community,” Mulder said.

“It’s good that it’s gone back to the CHAB to look at the funding recommendations.”