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Centre operators look to the City of Edmonton for support

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By Shari Narine Sweetgrass Contributing Editor EDMONTON







It was a deliberate decision to only access provincial dollars for the New In Town Aboriginal centre that opened its doors last September, but now operators are looking to the City of Edmonton for financial aid.

“(Mayor Stephen Mandel) said it is a service to welcome people to the city who are moving here, so the City of Edmonton should be more involved and he really wants to continue that discussion about how the City of Edmonton can be more welcoming to people who are new in town,” said Cheryl Whiskeyjack, following the launching of the New in Town Aboriginal Welcome Service last month.

Mandel was among the keynote speakers.

The New in Town service is the collaborative effort of the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, Boyle Street Community Services and Boyle Street Aboriginal Services.  Alberta Justice provided $1.2 million over three years through the Safe Communities Innovation Fund for the centre, which is located on 116 avenue and 95 street.

“We very deliberately approached the province for funding because it’s very flexible and very healthy funding that we were able to get for three years,” said Whiskeyjack, who serves as executive director with Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society. “It gives us the ability to be really creative as to how we were going to be unfolding this.”

Until the centre opened, Whiskeyjack said her organization as well as Boyle Street were providing services “off the corner of our desks” for Aboriginal people new to Edmonton.

“One of the things that is wonderful about this three-way partnership is everything that all three of our organizations brings to the table is value-added for the people who are walking in the door,” said Whiskeyjack.
Since the centre began operating last September, 80 documented cases have been opened.  Whiskeyjack expects to serve 2,400 people in a year’s time. Edmonton has the second highest urban Aboriginal population in the country.

People come to the centre for a variety of reasons, said Karen Minde, supervisor on site.

“We’re a gateway to services within the city,” she said. People come looking for help with accommodations, health services, employment and educational information, and income support.

The Aboriginal Welcome Service connects people to the available resources, starting with the area of the city in which they reside.

“We’re continually adding more services as we go on,” said Minde, who noted that other organizations have been able to tap in to the welcome centre as one of their available resources.

The Aboriginal Welcome Service is available to everyone who has been in the city for a year or less. While Aboriginals are the target population, nobody is turned away, said Minde. She added that people who have been in the city for over a year are referred to other agencies for help.

The centre employs five and has three support workers as well.

Whiskeyjack said once word got around about the funding from Alberta Justice to operate the centre, Urban Aboriginal Strategies, Alberta Human Services and Alberta Supports also stepped up to the plate with dollars. Now Whiskeyjack is looking to the city.

“(Mandel) wants to continue the conversation and I would like to continue the conversation,” said Whiskeyjack. “There seems to be a real movement in the air as well from people recognizing that there is a need to support Aboriginal people from all levels of government.”

Photo caption: Cheryl Whiskeyjack, executive director for Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, one of the organizations that helps operate New in Town Aboriginal Welcome Service.