Siloam Mission is taking another step in improving its relationship with Winnipeg’s Indigenous community.
The local organization — which has provided shelter and support for members of the city’s homeless community since 1987 — announced a new Indigenous relations director Monday after a consultation process that saw a need for better engagement with and culturally specific programming for Indigenous people.
The new director is Christine Vanagas of Long Plain First Nation, who has previous experience working with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, as well as homelessness projects in southern Ontario.
“We are very excited to welcome Christine into this new role,” said Siloam CEO Tessa Blaikie-Whitecloud.
“Her experience and knowledge will be a great contribution to realizing our commitment to strengthen cultural competency in our services and build meaningful partnerships with the Indigenous community.”
Blaikie-Whitecloud is, herself, a relatively new addition to Siloam following the controversy surrounding the organization in recent years.
Siloam parted ways with its previous CEO and board chair in early 2021 following strong criticism about the organization’s relationship with the Indigenous community.
A social media group calling itself Not My Siloam criticized the Christian organization in 2020, focusing on a lack of cultural and spiritual sensitivity to Indigenous people who use its services.
The organization has pledged to improve that relationship and strengthen its connections to the Indigenous community, and said it will be implementing a number of recommendations, including increased Indigenous representation at the executive and staff levels, as well as education for staff and creating culturally relevant programming.
“There are difficult conversations taking place across this nation around reconciliation. I don’t think it was ever intended to be easy,” said Vanagas.
“Siloam Mission’s commitment to doing the hard work and implementing change for Indigenous service and engagement is an example of how one turns talk into action. I am honoured to be offered a chance to be part of this — not only for the current staff and clients, but for those who will see what we did seven generations from now.”