Siloam Mission hosts first Indigenous open house

Siloam Mission hosted its first Indigenous open house on Saturday afternoon to give people an opportunity to connect with staff and learn about changes the Winnipeg non-profit has been making to better support the Indigenous population it serves.

In December 2020, a group called Not My Siloam began a social media campaign to draw attention to the Christian organization’s failure to support the Indigenous community.

That led to the hiring of a new CEO, Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, and the development of a five-year strategic plan that newly incorporates truth and reconciliation in the organization’s values and key priorities.

“We really wanted to put action behind those words … the Indigenous Open House is an opportunity to talk to our Indigenous staff and learn from them, about their piece in their work of Siloam’s trust and reconciliation work,” Blaikie Whitecloud said Saturday.

Indigenous people make up to 80 per cent of the community to which Siloam provides services and care.

Saturday’s open house provided an opportunity for the public to learn about the full scope of services that Siloam Mission offers, including its Indigenous cultural programs.

Siloam Mission hosted its first Indigenous Open House on Saturday afternoon, giving an opportunity for the public to come learn from and engage with the non-profit’s Indigenous staff and programming. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

For staff member Bronson Richard, a stand-out program that Siloam recently did was a drum-making workshop.

“We did a drum workshop right from the beginning — skinning the buffalo hides, stretching the hides, bending our wood … and we made out drums right from scratch,” said Richard, who is from Minegoziibe Anishinabe, also known as Pine Creek First Nation.

The workshop was impactful for community members and staff, Richard added.

“A lot of folks [now] have traditional drums that they were able to produce themselves.”

When Siloam Mission released its first public report to the community on Dec. 1, Whitecloud declared the organization’s intent to fulfil the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to actions 48 and 49.

Those calls to action ask faith-based groups to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and renounce concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples, such as the Doctrine of Discovery.

Siloam has officially rejected the Doctrine of Discovery, which states that when a nation discovers land, it directly acquires rights on that land.

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