The only way Thunderbird House will keep its doors open is to market its services and rent its space to make up for a $230,000 funding shortfall, elders and board members said Monday.
"Unfortunately we’ve been told that cultural programming does not fit the current government priority of economic development," said Kevin Hart, Circle of Life Thunderbird House board co-chairman.
The aboriginal spiritual centre has always scrambled for secure funding, usually shifting back and forth from federal and provincial governments for grants to keep its doors open but the global economic crunch is making financial independence a necessity, board members and elders said after a pipe ceremony.
"We cannot and must not rely on government funding to providing services to our community. Going forward we are focusing on other methods of funding our programs," Hart said.
In October, the federal government backed out of a two-year commitment for $230,000 a year, which would have maintained elders services and kept the doors to the centre open. That grant would have also helped lay the foundation for an elder’s college, to set professional standards, which has been long recognized as a gap in credentials by local elders.
"We will more aggressively market aboriginal perception and awareness training to both aboriginal and non-aboriginal organizations. And rental of our space as an event venue." Hart said.
With estimates of Winnipeg’s aboriginal population ranging from 75,000 people to 90,000 people, the need to learn more about aboriginal culture is gaining ground with non-aboriginal corporations and aboriginal organizations alike, media were told.
The centre brings in about $60,000 in venue revenue a year but it has yet to market its cultural programs to schools and other centres. Working out of the centre, a council of 17 elders regularly visit the hospitals, prisons and treatment facilities to provide cultural services.
"This isn’t just about our aboriginal population. It’s how we bring the four races (of people) together. That’s the spirituality of this place and this is the only meeting space like this," board member and elder Billie Schibler said.
She said the centre is also one of the southern Manitoba’s top three aboriginal tourist attractions, after the multi-millennia –old petroforms at Whiteshell Provincial Park and the Odena Circle at The Forks
The centre, opened in 2000, is owned by the non-profit Circle of Life Thunderbird House.