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Finding Hope at the Indigenous Family Centre

Erica Van Hoffen, Hamilton District Christian School student, was excited to go to the Indigenous Family Centre in Winnipeg and learn about Aboriginal culture and help, but she was not prepared for the amount of hope she found in those communities. The following narrative speech about her experience.

According to an article on CBC, throughout Canadian history over 150,000 Aboriginal students attended residential school.

Like many of you, I learned about residential schools in history class, and I thought the practice was pretty bad.  But then at the end of class the bell rang, and I packed up and went to lunch. I heard the facts, but they didn’t really strike me until I heard some of the personal stories that went with them. I thought that Aboriginal injustice had only happened in the past, but it’s actually a very current concern.

At the Indigenous Family Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the facts I learned in history class came to life, and I discovered that hope and willingness to change can go a long way. My decision to go to the Indigenous Family Centre for a week taught me how good choices and a willingness to change can redeem bad choices that have been made in the past.

The Indigenous Family Centre is located in the North End of Winnipeg, which is a low-income community largely populated by indigenous people. The IFC was started by the Christian Reformed Church and hosts a variety of programs to teach Aboriginal culture and serve Aboriginal people. I visited the Indigenous Family Centre with a mission team for a week last July. One of the first people I met at the IFC was Connie Budd, a Cree elder and community minister. I met Connie the first night, and she spoke about her experience as an Indigenous child. Like many other Indigenous children, she attended residential school.

Connie was the first person I ever met who went to residential school and I was shocked to hear that she had. In my mind residential schools were a thing from history class, not something that was right in front of me. She told us how she lived with her grandparents after residential school, and she explained how her grandmother had taught her Aboriginal teachings, and how Connie is now able to teach Aboriginal culture at the IFC. I was surprised that Connie even felt comfortable sharing her story with us. Residential schools tried to wipe Connie of her culture,  yet she still is a leader in restoring Aboriginal pride in Winnipeg communities. I’m very thankful to Connie for sharing her story because if she hadn’t I would have only served and not learned.  If I had gone to Winnipeg only wanting to help, I would not have stopped to listen to Connie’s story, and I would not have changed. Changing my view helped me to connect with the rest of the people I met that week, and to realize how my choices could help reconcile our relationships. If you wish to change bad things, you must first be willing to change your outlook. If you want to help people, you have to view life from their perspective.

Even though we are taught about residential schools, I don’t think we ever realize how many people were affected, or how recent the existence of residential schools is. A CBC article on residential schools said that the last residential school closed in 1996, which was 4 years before most of us were born. That’s not that long ago!

Children were split apart from their families where they lived in poor conditions and suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. When children returned to their communities they had no idea how to run a family, and they did not feel welcome in their own community. But you’ve heard all that. It is important, but it still feels like we’re talking about the past. What you might not have heard is that even though the government is investing money into the reconciliation process, a Statistics Canada survey reported that 25% of Aboriginals living outside of reserves live in crowded homes in need of major repairs. A different survey reported that more than one-fifth of Aboriginal parents who live off a reserve feel that violence is a problem at their children’s school. The government has taken steps towards healing, and we are on the right path. But we as a country also have to change our opinions of Indigenous people. Making good choices is not enough to change bad events, if you don’t first change your outlook.

The north end of Winnipeg is not a pretty place. There are problems of violence, and thus there is a heavy police presence. People don’t necessarily live there because they want to; they live there because that’s the only thing they can afford.

I was excited to go to Winnipeg and learn about Aboriginal culture and help there, but I was not prepared for the amount of hope I found in those communities. People who were not very well off were thankful for what little they had. In a sharing circle one day, women shared their prayer requests. The loss that they had was severe. People spoke of being evicted, of losing children to prostitution or suicide, yet they were so thankful for the Christian ministry. They were so willing to share, and so willing to host us. I chose to help at the IFC, but if I hadn’t been willing to listen to their stories nothing would have been accomplished. I would have served them meals, played with their children, but I would not have learned who the people I was serving really were. Listening to their experiences empowers us to serve them properly, in ways that they need, so they can grow stronger as a people. It helps us accomplish our goal of reconciliation.

My choice to go to the Indigenous Family Centre was a good one, but my willingness to listen and shift my attitude is what really made a difference in my life, and hopefully for the people I met.

Your choices can help make differences in Aboriginal communities too. Maybe that’s not going on a mission trip, but rather changing your perception of Aboriginals by listening or maybe learning about the reserve here by listening to their stories. Although the choices made in the past were destructive, we can work together to fix relationships and communities across Canada.
Thank you.

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