In the face of mounting criticism for not being responsive to the spiritual and cultural needs of its Indigenous clients, Siloam Mission has vowed to change its approach.

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This article was published 8/1/2021 (497 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the face of mounting criticism for not being responsive to the spiritual and cultural needs of its Indigenous clients, Siloam Mission has vowed to change its approach.

The board of directors of the Christian organization, which receives millions of dollars in public funding annually, released a statement Friday in which it promises to address the issue.

"On behalf of the board of directors of Siloam Mission, this is to acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed by Indigenous-led not-for-profit organizations and others regarding the best way to provide spiritual care and cultural services."

Jim Bell, CEO of the homeless shelter, said: "One thing we all share is a commitment to, and compassion for, those living in poverty and homelessness in our inner city. In acknowledging that mistakes have been made, we have accepted an invitation to begin a collaborative conversation in an effort to walk a path together toward resolution on these important matters."

Siloam said it will provide updates to its efforts to provide spiritual and cultural care, such as drumming and smudging.

Dodie Jordaan, executive director of Ka Ni Kanichihk, which provides Indigenous-led programming in Winnipeg, called the message from Siloam "a start" for what needs to be a fully collaborative effort.

"It's about understanding the truth and working toward reconciliation, and Indigenous groups are ready to do that with the Indigenous community," she said.

Her hope is that Siloam integrates Indigenous community groups into these conversations, enters them with an open heart and mind, and that it ends with Indigenous culture fully integrated into Siloam, from leadership and staff to an altered "way of being" for the organization.

"When we talk about something being Indigenous-led, whether it's an organization, a program, or work that's happening with Indigenous people: if you have 75 per cent of your target group Indigenous, 75 per cent of your board should be Indigenous, 75 per cent of your staff should be Indigenous, and that should be what you're embedding within the mandate of your organization," she said.

In November, nearly a dozen current and former employees wrote a letter to the Siloam board accusing Bell of creating a hostile and divisive working environment and a "reluctance, refusal, and often outright denial" of culturally appropriate programming.

Staff said Bell limited or denied Indigenous practices and the participation of Indigenous speakers at Siloam.

They also accused Bell of failing to establish an Indigenous advisory council, which was promised in a report to the Winnipeg Indigenous Accord in 2018, and failing to hire Indigenous staff after the mission’s Indigenous spiritual care worker resigned last summer.

This has resulted, the employees claim, in a dismantling of Indigenous initiatives at Siloam, which fails to serve the majority of its clients and fulfil grants obtained under the promise Siloam would provide Indigenous-specific programming.

It's estimated at least 70 per cent of Winnipeg's homeless population is Indigenous.