An Indigenous healing centre inside an Ontario United church is one step closer to becoming fully operational and could serve as a model for how cities tackle economic inequities, organizers say.
Anishnabeg Outreach is a non-profit agency based in Kitchener, Ont., focused on healing and empowering First Nations, Inuit and Métis people to find economic independence. It partnered with Trinity United in Guelph, Ont., to run several programs out of the church at no cost to the Indigenous-run non-profit. In early September, Anishnabeg Outreach moved in after renovating the building’s third floor.
“What we’re doing in Guelph and Trinity is creating a system that supports a mid-size city. We can do that anywhere. That’s the value of what we’ve created,” says Stephen Jackson, CEO of Anishnabeg Outreach.
The healing centre will offer employment, training and tutoring services through its third-floor office at Trinity, as well as its Spirit Bundle program using the church’s stage in the gymnasium. Spirit bundles are custom care packages for families and single people that contain food, toiletries, household goods and clothes, as well as seasonal items like Halloween costumes. The centre will also use the church’s kitchen to process food locally in Guelph to cut down on shipping costs from Kitchener.
Success at Trinity could serve as a blueprint to expand programs to other places of worship willing to partner with the non-profit, says Jackson. The result would be a scalable model cities could adopt to help disenfranchised people out of a cycle of trauma and give them a chance to reclaim their lives through work.
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For Trinity’s Rev. John Benham, healing was front of mind when he met with Jackson back in 2021.
“We are giving them space, and they’re improving the space. They’re making it look beautiful. I tend to say we’re on a journey of a relationship of healing,” Benham says.
Such improvements include moving silhouettes of the Seven Grandfather Teachings, a set of Anishinaabe guiding principles, from Anishnabeg Outreach Kitchener into Trinity’s hallways so they’re visible to users as soon as they enter the church.
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“One of the lessons we can learn here at Trinity is what it means to be truly hospitable to people who have really had a lot of pain through the church,” says Benham on the United Church of Canada’s role in the residential school system.
Benham or Trinity “isn’t leading what we’re doing,” he continues. “They’re supporting what we’re doing, and we’re supporting what they’re doing because it’s a partnership. Without trust, you’ll never do anything.”
Brian Vinh Tien Trinh is a writer in Toronto and a former assistant digital editor at Broadview.
This story first appeared in Broadview’s January/February 2024 issue.
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