December 10, 2019

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Building a foundation of reconciliation

Winnipeg group contributes $1.3 million for initiatives to create community harmony

For decades, Indigenous children were physically and sexually abused after being forced from their home communities to attend residential schools across the country.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, whose chairman, Murray Sinclair, is now a senator, heard from witnesses and received reports as it travelled across the country to examine the damage caused by the residential school system.

Representatives from 20 charitable organizations that recently received $1.3 million from The Winnipeg Foundation’s reconciliation grants. (Supplied)</p></p>

Representatives from 20 charitable organizations that recently received $1.3 million from The Winnipeg Foundation’s reconciliation grants. (Supplied)

After the truth became known, the commission wanted the country to work towards reconciliation. It issued 94 calls to action to the federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments, hoping to spark the creation of programs and implement policies.

The Winnipeg Foundation, the country’s oldest community foundation, accepted the call. Earlier this month, it issued $1.3 million in grants to 20 local organizations. To get the grants, each of the organizations had to propose projects that work towards reconciliation.

Some of those programs will wrap up this year, others will continue over the next three years.

Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art is an organization that provides numerous programs for female artists, including visual arts education.

Shawna Dempsey, the group’s co-executive director, said the foundation gave it $79,600 for two projects.

In the first, 500 packages of artworks, each on 22-by-28-centimetre cardstock, will be created by 50 Canadian Indigenous female artists. They were part of this past year’s Resilience exhibition, which was featured on billboards across the country. The packages will be distributed to every public school Winnipeg.

"Right now in schools, when children learn about art, they learn about the Italian Renaissance and (American pop artist) Andy Warhol, but we have such a wealth of artists in Canada, particularly Indigenous women artists," Dempsey said.

"We want to create educational tools to get them into schools, so teachers can use them to learn about the artists and learn about the meaning of the artwork in the artists’ own words."

For the second project, Resilience curator Lee-Ann Martin has been commissioned to put together a textbook about the history of Indigenous women, which will be told through contemporary artwork. The books, with around 100 full-colour illustrations, would be geared towards high school and post-secondary students.

Local artists involved in the project include Jaime Black, Lita Fontaine and KC Adams. Others whose work will be featured include Daphne Odjig, Annie Pootoogook, Christi Belcourt and Skawennati.

Another grant recipient, the Immigrant and Refugee Committee Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM), received almost $100,000 to create a community-engagement project between new Canadians and Indigenous people.

Dorota Blumczynska, executive director of IRCOM, said many refugees are surprised when they get to Canada to learn about the country’s treatment of its Indigenous people.

"Newcomers are often deeply saddened, and they feel misled by Canada’s grandiose stories of being a land of freedom and great opportunity and human rights, but then they learn about this dark reality," Blumczynska said.

"We have an opportunity to change the narrative that is known even beyond our borders about Canada and Indigenous people."

IRCOM plans to take several steps, including engaging a cultural adviser to help deliver workshops, sharing circles and cultural sharing — creating opportunities for cultural exchange between newcomers and Indigenous community members and forming a community advisory committee made up, in part, with Indigenous community members.

Winnipeg Foundation chief executive officer Rick Frost said the grants range from $800 — so Westworth United Church can hold Interfaith workshops on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action — to a few that are worth $100,000. The average grant is $60,000.

Frost said 82 organizations made $6 million in requests, but the amount available for grants was $1.3 million.

"We, obviously, are interested in reconciliation, and this is a way we are reacting to it," he said. "Reconciliation is on our mind."

Megan Tate, the foundation’s director of community grants, said "reconciliation isn’t just an issue for the one community, it is an issue for all Winnipeggers. They all have a role in reconciliation."

Other projects funded by the foundation include the Manitoba Craft Council’s art exhibition, which focuses on contemporary Indigenous beading practices; the Rainbow Resource Centre’s culturally relevant programming for Indigenous LGBTTQ* people; and the Sandy-Saulteaux Spiritual Centre’s culturally oriented retreats for Indigenous parents who are working to reunite with their children.

Patricia Mainville, who was chairwoman of the reconciliation grants advisory committee, admits it was tough to turn down so many organizations.

"There were a lot of great projects," Mainville said. "There would have been more grants we would have loved to support."

Dempsey thanked the foundation, not only for her organization’s grant, but for the grant program itself.

"Across the board, the Winnipeg Foundation makes Winnipeg a better place. So much happens because of their funding," Dempsey said.

"I think the reconciliation grants are phenomenal... change is essential."

Frost said the foundation won’t know until after the projects are evaluated if there will be more reconciliation grants.

"Reconciliation can’t be led or accomplished by one organization," he said. "There has to be leadership in a lot of places, but hopefully this helps."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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History

Updated on Saturday, January 26, 2019 at 9:09 AM CST: Minor typography changes.

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