Photo: Makoonsag participants, 2012. Makoonsag Child Care and Intergenerational Learning Centre provides care for the children of students attending Urban Circle Training Centre.
The Foundation has a history of working to empower community, and has long supported Indigenous-serving and Indigenous-led organizations. While Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples is deeply troubled, progress is being made. The Foundation is on a journey of truth and reconciliation, and is committed to learning and evolving as we pursue social justice and equity for all.
More than 150 years of systemic racism in Canada, combined with centuries-old anti-Indigenous sentiments entrenched in society, has resulted in the recent and long overdue calls for truth and reconciliation. Parliament’s 2008 apology for the residential school legacy, followed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its Calls to Action (issued 2015), are challenging Canadians to examine personal and societal attitudes and address issues of justice, safety and inclusion.
Despite generations of systemic racism and societal intolerance, urban Indigenous people in Winnipeg form a vibrant and resilient community. It is a community The Foundation has supported through community-led initiatives for more than 60 years.
In 1959, a $3,500 grant from The Foundation, in partnership with the provincial and federal governments, supported the establishment of the Winnipeg Indian and Métis Friendship Centre (IMFC). The first Friendship Centre in Canada, IMFC initially provided referral services for Winnipeg’s growing First Nations and Métis populations.21 Its work and role evolved over the years; it grew to be a cultural hub, and initiated programs and social services in the areas of health, housing, employment and education. In 1977, The Foundation offered a stretch incentive program in support of IMFC renovations. It added $1 for every $5 IMFC raised, and eventually presented a cheque for $12,500.22 While it is currently closed, IMFC paved the way for other Friendship Centres; today, there are well over 100 across Canada.
In 1968, The Foundation made its first grant to the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF), which formed the year before. That grant, which helped the organization settle into office space, was profiled in The Foundation’s 1968 annual report, with the comment: “We are confident that in working together, problems created through ignorance or indifference can be resolved.”23 In 2020, the MMF struck a deal to buy the historic Bank of Montreal building in downtown Winnipeg. Once renovated, the completed space will include a Métis Nation Heritage Centre.
The Foundation has long understood the importance of offering programming and support in Indigenous languages. In 1981, it granted $19,800 to the City of Winnipeg to help start a “native translators’ program.” The funding helped support 20 people to work as Indigenous language translators in hospitals and social agencies, with additional funding provided by the City of Winnipeg and Canada Manpower.24 In 1992, a grant of $13,200 was made to The Manitoba Association for Native Languages in support of a working conference to produce an English/Indigenous language dictionary of common terms to improve the delivery of medical services.25
When, in 1988, the University of Manitoba, Faculty of Medicine, Division of Community and Northern Medicine, was to conduct community-based research into health issues in Northern Manitoba and the North West Territories, The Foundation supported the work with a $90,000 grant issued over three years. At the time, The Foundation noted, “The health of Native Canadians compares poorly with the rest of the population, especially in remote communities.”26
Supporting educational opportunities for Indigenous students has also long been a priority. Bursaries for Indigenous students at the University of Manitoba date back many years. In 1971, The Foundation noted a $3,000 “revolving fund” was available for Indigenous students in order to “make up the difference between cash available from other sources and the funds needed for an education.”27 In 2001, a more robust scholarship program was established; The Business Council of Manitoba’s Aboriginal Education Awards. These scholarships, which were also supported by the governments of Canada and Manitoba, are available to First Nations, Métis and Inuit students who are attending a Manitoba post-secondary institution. Between 2010 and 2020, approximately 1,150 awards valued at $3.3 million were distributed.28
In 2002, when Urban Circle began redeveloping two abandoned retail storefronts on Selkirk Avenue, The Foundation contributed $100,000 to the project. Urban Circle provides culturally appropriate education and training to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women and men in Winnipeg. The redevelopment process focused on sustainability, reuse and community health, and stimulated redevelopment along Selkirk Avenue. In 2009, when Urban Circle was building a childcare centre to ensure students could focus on their studies knowing their little ones were well taken care of, The Foundation contributed an additional $150,000.
In 2003, Ka Ni Kanichihk launched the United Against Racism Project, a multi-part initiative to develop a community-based, action-oriented strategy to deal with racism, particularly in schools. “One of the good things about this project is that it’s not government-led, it’s not mainstream-led, it is Aboriginal-led and it involves other ethno-cultural communities,” Project Coordinator Elisa Buenaventura said in 2003. The project was inspired by reports of “experiences of discrimination and of hardship that Aboriginal students and students of colour have had in the school system,” Buenaventura said. The Foundation made grants totaling $270,00 over three years in support of the project.
In June 2008, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized on behalf of Canada for the terrible history of the Residential School System. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed in 2008 to lay the foundation for reconciliation in our country.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) holds the statements, documents and other items collected by the TRC. Located at the University of Manitoba, the NCTR supports learning and dialogue so the truths of Residential School Survivors’ experiences are honoured and kept safe for future generations. The Foundation made a $50,000 grant in 2010 to support the initial work of gathering statements, and continues to support NCTR’s work.
In 2015, the TRC, led by Justice Murray Sinclair, released its 94 Calls to Action. Also that year, the Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada drafted the Philanthropic Community’s Declaration of Action. The Foundation is a signatory, and this document is helping guide our strategic direction.
In 2017, The Foundation released its Vital Signs® report, which was a check-up on the vitality of our community. It identified significant needs and trends by combining research with the results of surveys. Amongst the top concerns facing our community: reconciliation.
To help address this challenge, in 2018 The Foundation announced a new Reconciliation Grants program. The initiative was guided by an Advisory Committee made up of Indigenous community leaders who established policies and guidelines, reviewed applications, and made recommendations for funding. In 2019, The Foundation announced that 20 projects would receive funding totalling more than $1.3 million.
“Three key priorities help identify the successful applications: a commitment to reconciliation and how applicants interpreted the Calls to Action and UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples); the breadth of the project – how many people will be impacted by the project as well as the diversity of those impacted; and longevity – the long-term impact of a proposed project,” Patricia Mainville, Board member and Chair of the Reconciliation Grants Advisory Committee, said in 2019.
The Foundation launched its Walking Together Youth Reconciliation Grants program in 2019. This special granting stream supports youth-led truth and reconciliation projects at local schools and charities with Youth in Philanthropy committees. Read more – The future of philanthropy
Also in 2019, The Foundation commissioned three Indigenous art pieces to be installed at The Forks. The pieces recognize the integral role truth and reconciliation plays in our nation’s collective journey forward, while paying homage to the exchanges of compassion upon which Manitoba was founded. Chi-kishkayhitamihk si te li neu Biizon or Education is the New Bison, by artist Val Vint, was unveiled June 2020, with additional pieces by KC Adams and Jaimie Isaac to be installed in 2021.
In 2020, The Foundation became a signatory of the City of Winnipeg’s Indigenous Accord.
Today, reconciliation is a grantmaking priority woven throughout The Foundation’s work. Staff have formed a Truth and Reconciliation Circle which helps guide our direction, and staff continues to learn about Indigenous history, culture and education.