VANCOUVER, B.C. – First Nations with former Residential Schools and Indian Hospital sites on or near their communities can now access the B.C. Residential School Response Fund.

Along with the $12 million in funding announced in June, two First Nations liaisons have been chosen to bring their experience into the fold.

Charlene Belleau and Lydia Hwitsum were named to support caretaker communities, make connections with provincial and federal agencies, and advise the government on various activities related to former residential schools and hospital sites.

“Today, we stand with former students, survivors, intergenerational survivors and their families,” Belleau said.

“We are ready to support communities as they do the difficult work of honouring the spirits of the children who never came home. I am pleased to take on this role and support leaders, former students of residential schools and their families in their journey to bring truth, justice and healing.”

Belleau is the former Chief of Esk’etemc First Nation about 50 kilometres south of Williams Lake, and former chair of the First Nations Health Council.

Hwitsum previously served four terms as the elected Chief of the Cowichan Tribes. Hwitsum also served as chair of the First Nations Health Authority and is a First Nations Summit Political Executive member.

The fund is now open for expressions of interest from caretaker communities. The Province says it will fast-track the review process to ensure communities can access resources when they are ready to undertake work at sites.

There is no deadline attached to the grants, and the Province will help communities in each step of the process to make sure funding is accessible, flexible, and responsive.

“This is an important step for B.C. to help support First Nations as we proceed with this important and heartfelt work,” said Hwitsum.

In British Columbia, there were 18 Residential Schools and three Indian Hospital sites. According to a release, caretaker communities can access up to $475,000 for each site to support planning and carrying out work on sites.

The fund also has up to $2 million set aside for Indigenous service providers for immediate wellness, cultural and mental health needs to be met.

For more information about the B.C. Residential School Response Fund, go to the B.C. Government website.