We always have dignitaries at pow wows,’ Said the M.C. Then he proceeded to introduce one. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Kerry Diotte (this is how it was spelled on his agenda). ‘Looking around he said, “Where is she?”
So how did this happen?
As the Centre found its’ feet, those partners gradually came to the table. One of their anchor partners is Youth Unlimited, who run a youth ministry centre out of the basement. A few years ago, as a partner they renovated the space as a venue for concerts and other types of programming for their youth, many of whom are from immigrant families and learning together under their Christian mentors, how to be Canadian, and caring citizens in their new home.
Certainly, not everything is simple. The centre is self-sustaining in operating costs, but currently the building needs some larger repairs, including a new roof and parking lot, and investments to make the upstairs accessible. Finding the money and resources to effect those major repairs is still in the works, but these are normal challenges. It is likely solutions to this will be generated out of the continuing fruit of the relationships and partnerships built. Perhaps they will be able to tell that story too in the days to come.
Where is the heart that drives a community ministry like Millbourne community Life Centre?
That heart is expressed well in their vision statement: “Millbourne Community Life Centre is a place where all, regardless of ethnic or economic background can come to receive an expression of God’s love and find hope that comes through knowing the gift of life that God offers through His Son, Jesus Christ.”
According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) (2016), Alberta has among the lowest rates of off-reserve Indigenous child poverty in Canada at 26%. In comparison, Manitoba’s rate is 39% and Saskatchewan’s is 36%. The child poverty rate for those with First Nations status off-reserve in Alberta is approximately 39%, while for Metis children the rate is much lower at 20%. For Indigenous children on reserve in Alberta, the poverty rate skyrockets to 60%. According to the National Household Survey (2011), the poverty rate for Indigenous children in the City of Edmonton is 30%, while for non-Indigenous children the rate is approximately 12% (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016).
Canada’s painful history with residential schools, in addition to the chronic underfunding of Indigenous services both on and off-reserve, has left many First Nations communities living in abject poverty (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016). Indigenous peoples can also experience higher rates of diabetes, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, heart disease and obesity (Ubelacker, 2013).
The experience of being forcibly removed from their cultures, traditions and customs during the residential school period can partly explain the present health challenges experienced by many Indigenous peoples (Howard, 2017). In addition, as a result of the physical, emotional, mental and sexual abuse experienced by many Indigenous peoples in residential schools, there is a general mistrust of mainstream institutions within Indigenous communities, which can exacerbate existing health struggles by discouraging access to health services (FCSS, 2015).
In addition, Indigenous peoples in Edmonton can experience significant challenges when accessing affordable, adequate and safe housing. In the 2016 Point-in-Time Homeless Count in Edmonton, 1,752 people experiencing homelessness were counted. While Indigenous peoples only account for 5% of the Edmonton population, 48% of the homeless population counted identify as Indigenous. Of those individuals, First Nations peoples are represented most significantly with 316 people counted (7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness, 2016)
Indigenous peoples are also overrepresented as food bank users in Alberta. In the 2016 Hunger Count, 33.5% of food bank users identified as Indigenous (Food Banks Canada, 2016).
Indigenous peoples also experience significant challenges obtaining employment in Alberta. In 2016, for example, Indigenous peoples had an unemployment rate of 13.8%, compared to 7.9% within the non-Indigenous population. Indigenous peoples also experience lower labour force participation rates than their non-Indigenous counterparts. In 2016, for example, Indigenous peoples had a participation rate of 70.3%, while non-Indigenous Albertans had a rate of 72.6% (Statistics Canada, 2017).
In conclusion, Indigenous peoples in the City of Edmonton and Alberta experience high rates of child poverty and negative health outcomes resulting from the chronic underfunding of services and the harmful legacy of residential schools (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2016). First Nations peoples in Edmonton are also overrepresented within the homeless population and food bank users and experience significant employment barriers (7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness, 2016).
By Heather Curtis, Research Coordinator
Edmonton Social Planning Council
7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness. (2016). Alberta Point-in-Time Homeless Count- Edmonton. Retrieved from http://homewardtrust.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Homeless-Count-2016-Edmonton-Preliminary-Report.pdf
Family and Community Support Services Calgary (FCSS). (2015). Social Inclusion of Vulnerable Seniors – A review of the literature on best and promising practices working with seniors.
Food Banks Canada. (2016). Hunger Count 2016 – A Comprehensive Report on Hunger and Food Bank Use in Canada, and Recommendations for Change. Retrieved from https://www.foodbankscanada.ca/getmedia/6173994f-8a25-40d9-acdf-660a28e40f37/HungerCount_2016_final_singlepage.pdf
Statistics Canada. (2017). Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by Aboriginal group, sex and age group, Canada, selected provinces and regions, annual. CANSIM Table 282-022
Howard, H. (2014). Canadian Residential Schools and Urban Indigenous Knowledge Production about Diabetes. Medical Anthropology, 33(6), 529-545.
Ubelacker, S. (2013, November 28). Aboriginal seniors face more health challenges, report suggests. CTV News. Retrieved from http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/aboriginal-seniors-face-more-health-challenges-report-suggests-1.1564234
Why does this word of prophecy scare me more than the others? Because when the cold of famine, disease, war and death strike, it is those moments of a sharing humanity (in love, generosity, compassion, and sacrifice) that warm, comfort and preserve us, keeping us alive in the face of hardship.
Today, the world really is a cold place for so many of us experiencing great struggle. Across the world, we see it in the face of refugees fleeing their homes, and leaving behind country, culture and family. We see it in the gaunt faces of children in places swept by famine, or in lands made barren by war. And we see it here in our own families and communities: In those battling a mental illness and depression, often alone. In trauma from broken or abusive relationships and violence. In slavery to addictions. In bitterness and angry wounds that refuse to heal. In desperate poverty; lacking food, shelter, safety, and supportive community. It is an unending shiver that sinks weariness into our bones.
So why do we so often choose to answer this cold with cold? Like those upstanding model citizens in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), we often see the need of a neighbour, but choose to keep our distance and keep walking. When we are asked to respond in some way to the plight of a refugee or the person seeking an affordable home in our communities, we often choose a cold academic discussion about possible negative pressures and impacts on our way of life over a gentler, deeper, wiser and more compassionate conversation that acknowledges the humanity of our neighbour and seeks health and vibrancy for all.
“The crisis is too big for us to get involved in,” we say. “Their wounds are too angry, and we do not have the skills to help them. We need to protect ourselves; afraid that this person may turn around and hurt us. We do not believe it is possible for someone to heal from this trauma, break from their past, or break from an addiction. Better to keep our doors locked tight, and let our neighbours sort out whatever hand God, or fate, or their own actions have dealt them. Best look out for number one. Best keep walking.”
Or we can choose to respond with warmth and humanity as the Samaritan (an outsider) did in Jesus’ parable. On seeing this man lying naked and half dead on the side of the road, “he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”
For followers of Jesus, choosing the cold response is not an option. It is true that we as people are limited in what we can do. We cannot solve every problem, or respond to every crisis, and we must always find time to rest along the way. But we must always be ready to respond as God calls us: to a life full of love, hope and trust, patience, kindness, gentleness, humility, commitment, compassion, hospitality, self-control, wisdom and sacrifice; to live as steady and warm expressions of the loving God we serve.
…so the cold does not win.
Below is a link to a powerful award-winning video that I think speaks beautifully to this work of fighting together against the cold:
The Deepening Community Rap
By Pastor Mike Van Boom, from Centrepointe church (Christian Reformed)