Indigenous

Indigenous-led non-profits say they are better equipped to deliver cultural services than Siloam Mission

The leaders of Indigenous-led non-profit organizations say they are better equipped than Siloam Mission to provide spiritual care and cultural services to Winnipeg's homeless population.

'We know how to do it,' says executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre

Diane Redsky, executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, says 'the really critical and important needs are for Indigenous people to be helping other Indigenous people.' (Kelly Malone/CBC)

The leaders of Indigenous-led non-profit organizations say they are better equipped than Siloam Mission to provide spiritual care and cultural services to Winnipeg's homeless population.

"They're not an Indigenous organization, but delivering services to Indigenous people and yet we have almost no relationship with them at all," said Diane Redsky, executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, an Indigenous-led social service provider in Winnipeg.

"The really critical and important needs are for Indigenous people to be helping other Indigenous people, not because there's such a sense of ownership, but we know how to do it."

A past board member and former staff of Siloam Mission, a Christian humanitarian organization that provides support for the city's homeless population, recently accused the mission of neglecting the spiritual and cultural care of the Indigenous people it serves, who make up the majority of its clientele. 

"Spirituality is really a core foundation to a person's healing journey, and to deny people that opportunity and to me, a human right to ceremony, is really disturbing," Redsky said.

"The only reason why we're still around is because of the generations of people who protected those ceremonies and as people in our shared values on how to be a community and take care of one another."

In a statement, Siloam Mission said it has a room specifically for smudging but that its spiritual care co-ordinator left in the fall of 2020 and the position has yet to be filled.

It said they are working with Indigenous elders, knowledge keepers and Christian elders on how to deliver culturally competent services.

"To provide clarity on how we can best meet the needs of our Indigenous community members, our board of directors has tasked the Indigenous Education Committee to look into this further. At this time, there is no Indigenous representation on the committee. But the priority of the committee is to listen to Indigenous voices," the statement said.

Shifting control 'is the hard work'

Dodie Jordaan, executive director of Indigenous-led non-profit Ka Ni Kanichihk, which provides programs and services to Indigenous people in Winnipeg's inner city, said non-profits talk about truth and reconciliation but need to learn how to shift control of organizations serving Indigenous people to Indigenous people.

Dodie Jordaan said that non-Indigenous organizations that primarily serve Indigenous populations need to shift the power over to Indigenous employees and management. (Jessica Macaig)

"That's the hard work. That's the hard part. That's where the resistance comes in, is shifting that power and control that we see," said Jordaan.

She said if an organization's users are primarily Indigenous, the same percentage should be leading that organization, from its board to its staff.

"It's not surprising that any settler organization that hasn't done their work are still doing things that are not aligned with Indigenous ways of being and doing," she said.

Fundraising efforts

In August 2020, Siloam Mission opened a 54,000-square-foot expansion, which brought the total number of shelter beds available to 153. The project raised $19 million in two years, which included funds from all three levels of government as well as private donors including the Buhler family, who donated $3 million.

Ka Ni Kanichik, which has been providing cultural and preventative services for families for close to 20 years, has been trying to raise $6 million to expand its McDermot Avenue space as well as its services.

It started capital fundraising efforts officially in 2019, and so far has raised $2.6 million.

Siloam Mission's expanded Buhler Centre has 54,000 square feet of space and a room for smudging. A former employee said the organization is withholding spiritual and cultural needs to its users. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Both Jordaan and Redsky said they have trouble securing private donations for their organizations, because their day-to-day efforts are focused on delivering services as opposed to raising funds.

"It's been really hard to sit on the sidelines and watch organizations receive all of the funding when many Indigenous organizations are struggling year-to-year, sometimes month-to-month, depending on the size of the organization," said Redsky.

Redsky said she encourages Siloam Mission to get to work on building relationships with Indigenous community partners.

She also said Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre plans on moving into the same neighbourhood where Siloam Mission offers services in 2021, so they can begin providing cultural care to the vulnerable population. 

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He has been an associate producer with CBC Indigenous since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1

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