The foundation formed nearly a decade ago by the family of former media executive Allan Slaight is donating more than $12-million to improve the lives of Indigenous people across Canada.
The Slaight Family Foundation has committed to providing that money over the next five years to 15 non-profit organizations that are engaged with the First Nations, Inuit and Métis on a wide range of initiatives, from health and education to cultural activities and preventing violence against Indigenous women.
The gift, which will be announced Tuesday, is one of the largest of its kind ever directed at the Indigenous communities in this country.
"What better year to be doing this, given all the issues facing our country, and the people in our country, and the new focus from the [federal] government?" Gary Slaight, Allan Slaight's son and the president and chief executive of the Slaight Family Foundation, asked during a telephone interview. This past year's federal budget committed $8.4-billion over five years to improve the socio-economic conditions of Indigenous people.
Among the 15 groups that will receive a share of the Slaight Foundation money are the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund, which supports Indigenous education and culture; the Moosehide Campaign, which develops programs to reduce violence; and Indspire, which provides funds for mentorship and postsecondary education for Indigenous youth.
The others are the 4Rs Youth Movement, the ArtsCan Circle, the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Camp Onakawana, the Child Development Institute, the National Arts Centre, Outward Bound Canada, Right to Play, the Royal Ontario Museum, St. Michael's Hospital Foundation, Teach for Canada and WE (Free the Children).
The Slaight Family Foundation was formed in 2008 after Allan Slaight authorized the sale of Standard Radio, which he had purchased from Conrad Black in 1985, to Astral Media for $1.08-billion. Since then, it has provided substantial donations to programs that the family believes will have the greatest impact over the long term.
In 2013, there was a $50-million gift to five Toronto hospitals. In 2015, seven international aid organizations received $7-million to support global humanitarianism. And in 2016, the foundation donated $11-million to 11 Canadian charities that help vulnerable children and youth.
This year, "everything was pointing in this direction" of Indigenous people, Gary Slaight said.
"We tried to cover as many areas as possible," Mr. Slaight said. "We have purposely done a four- or five-year program because we want these programs to sustain and develop."
The foundation spent six months researching which charities would have the biggest impact. Among the many experts consulted was Roberta Jamieson, the former Ontario ombudsman who was the first First Nations woman in Canada to earn a law degree and who is now the president and CEO of Indspire.
"The leadership gift that the Slaight Family Foundation is providing to Indspire is going to result in 750 new bursaries and scholarships for Indigenous students studying in arts, culture and language, and also will impact 30,000 Indigenous students through mentorships, through peer support of educators," Ms. Jamieson said.
There is a comfortable myth in Canada that every Indigenous student has their education paid for from cradle to grave, but that is simply not true, Ms. Jamieson said. Status Indians can apply for postsecondary funding from their home communities but the demand often far exceeds the available funds.
"I can tell you the biggest barrier to our students succeeding is lack of financial support," she said. "And I can show you from our graduate survey at Indspire that 93 per cent of the students we support graduate."
Through this donation, the Slaight Family Foundation is investing in one of the fastest growing demographic groups in Canada and helping to alleviate one of the largest public policy challenges in this country, Ms. Jamieson said. It "is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do and will give back to the country in untold ways."