On National Indigenous Peoples Day, we join United Way Centraides (UWCs) in communities across the country in celebrating the heritage, cultures and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

UWC envisions communities where we all have the opportunity to reach our full potential. The release of the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls makes it painfully evident that Indigenous peoples have been denied many opportunities to thrive.

Despite this history, Indigenous leaders continue to provide exceptional leadership to all Canadians. First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are raising the bar on critical issues such as education, law and justice, public policy and the environment. As individuals and organizations, non-Indigenous Canadians have a responsibility in learning more about Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples, eliminating barriers and amplifying Indigenous voices.

In partnership with Indigenous leaders and organizations, UWCs across Canada are working to understand our shared past and chart a new course for our shared future. Below, you will find examples of their outstanding work.

Land acknowledgements matter

Land acknowledgements have become commonplace at conferences, meetings and events. But do you know why they are important? Local Love, a United Way Greater Toronto e-zine, partnered with writer Selena Mills to delve into land acknowledgements and why they matter. In a poignant piece, Mills explains that land acknowledgements are about far more than a few words to recognize the people who occupied the land. With illustrations by celebrated artist Chief Lady Bird, this article and video will help you understand that land acknowledgements aren’t simple, scripted statements; they hold more meaning and importance than they are often given credit. You can read Mills’ full article on locallove.ca.

Finding Pathways to Employment

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on the corporate sector to ensure Indigenous Peoples have equitable access to jobs, training and education opportunities, and that Indigenous communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects. This call to action propelled United Way Winnipeg to work with employers and community organizations in Treaty 1 territory to find ways to find pathways to employment for Indigenous youth.

Working through the Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council, TRC92: Youth Employment has engaged private sector employers to build relationships with the Indigenous community in Winnipeg, as well as with community organizations training Indigenous youth for employment. Importantly, this initiative has sought to educate partners on Indigenous history, anti-racism and cultural sensitivity before identifying opportunities to employ Indigenous youth.

TRC92: Youth Employment has discovered there is a strong business case for adopting Indigenous-focused employment strategies given the rapid growth of young Indigenous population throughout Canada—particularly in Winnipeg. As of June 21, nine employers have joined the program to hire young Indigenous job seekers. Together, these partners and United Way Winnipeg are finding new ways to create opportunities for First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth.

Pulling for Youth Success

The Squamish Nation’s North Vancouver Canoe Club is leveraging cultural tradition and sport to promote Indigenous youth success. The club’s Lil’Geese—or ḵ’émḵ’emay—program introduces Indigenous youth ages 5-14 to the sport and culture of war canoeing. For Pacific coast Indigenous peoples like the Squamish, canoes are both an art form and a vital part of identity, one that was almost lost during the last century.

Through support from United Way Lower Mainland, the Lil’Geese program will continue to grow. By recruiting up to 20 additional paddlers, and with a focus on engaging at-risk Indigenous youth, the program will connect youth with many social, cultural and physical benefits.

Importantly, the program helps preserve the cultural tradition of war canoeing while also promoting a healthy lifestyle. The after-school environment fosters physical and emotional strength, provides coaching, and connects youth with a critical social support network. Through competition, the Lil’Geese have the opportunity to meet and engage with crews from neighbouring nations from around the Pacific Northwest.

Click here to learn more about the program and its paddlers.

Convening for positive community outcomes

Now in its fifth year, the Wîcihitowin Indigenous Engagement Conference, held on Treaty 6 and Métis territory in Saskatoon, is a unique event. It commemorates the children that never made it home and pays respect to the survivors of Indian residential schools, Indian day schools and the Sixties Scoop, along with missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, by recognizing they were, and continue to be, seeds for change.

Decolonizing communities is multi-layered work. Wîcihitowin is a platform for the community, business, non-profit and health sectors to come together and learn from one another. It enables dialogue on topics such as engaging Indigenous people as employees and volunteers, incorporating Indigenous values in service delivery settings, and creating culturally safe and respectful organizations.

Developed in partnership with the Aboriginal Friendship Centres of Saskatchewan, City of Saskatoon, Saskatoon Health Region, and United Way Saskatoon and Area, the conference helps enhance social planning, community collaboration, public awareness, education and training to achieve greater impact and positive outcomes for the community.

This year’s conference, October 16-17, 2019, honours the late Elder Walter Linklater. Elder Linklater shared many universal teachings that continue to guide people on a path to reconciliation. His teaching of ‘being a good person and trying to live a good life’ inspires the theme of this year’s conference.

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