August 2, 2016.
In an act of reconciliation, the congregation at Southminster-Steinhauer United Church recently invested over $500,000 into the community, including projects that will help Edmonton’s Indigenous population.
“We have a real commitment to live into the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We’ve been attempting to attend and find ways to be about the work of reconciliation. So certainly there was a real hope that we would be able to fund projects that were consistent with those recommendations,” said SSUC Rev. Nancy L. Steeves.
Photo: Edmonton Inner City Housing Society received $200,000 from the Southminster-Steinhauer United Church, which chose to support social causes instead of paying down its mortgage. (Photo: www.facebook.com/SouthminsterSteinhauerChurch)
The United Church of Canada was one of the signatories to the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, which established the TRC.
Edmonton Inner City Housing Society received $200,000 in a housing project to build 78 new units of environmentally responsibly, permanent social housing and Bissell Centre received $100,000 to revitalize the drop-in centre which serves as the gateway to support programs for employment, housing, mental health and addiction services in the inner city. Both organizations have high Indigenous involvement.
The SSUC congregation set four priorities before putting out calls to organizations for funding proposals.
Housing was the top priority, which is fitting considering the money – approximately $830,000 received in 2014 - came from the sale of two houses, purchased in 1968 and 1978, as safe homes for primarily Aboriginal women moving into Edmonton. Back in the 1960s, the SSUC congregation decided to use its resources for social outreach and community investment instead of building its own facility.
The other priorities for projects: outreach for social justice initiatives, refugee supports and programs that address hunger; spiritual nurture; and strengthening SSUC social media presence.
Steeves says the congregation’s decision not to pay down its mortgage on the facility it eventually built in southwest Edmonton in 2001 is “very consistent with who we have always been as a spiritual community. It’s consistent with the DNA of the community over the last almost 50 years.”
Over 20 submissions were received for funding, but not all fit the registered charity qualification.
In fact, says Steeves, a couple of projects which couldn’t receive grant dollars this way, are still on the congregation’s radar. A kokum’s organization wishing to impart traditional knowledge through a sharing circle with women, who are dealing with the intergenerational trauma of Indian residential schools, and an organization wishing to build a sweat lodge, are still being considered.
“We’re looking at other ways we can support those two projects,” said Steeves. “It was very helpful for us in becoming aware of a couple of projects in the community that we would like to find ways to support and partner with in other than these funds.”
Steeves is hoping that actions like this will draw more Indigenous people to the SSUC congregation.
After all, she points out, Southminster-Steinhauer United Church is named after Henry Bird Steinhauer, an Ojibwa, who was born around 1818 probably originally named Sowengisik. Steinhauer’s great-grandson Ralph Steinhauer was lieutenant governor of Alberta from 1974 to 1979.
“It’s a challenge for us … we don’t have a strong presence (with the Indigenous community). We would like that to change,” said Steeves.