Across our region there are dozens of Indigenous non-profits, service providers and other organizations. These organizations help provide housing, health services, family services, counselling, educational assistance and employment services.
Throughout my life, I’ve heard people say things such as: “Why do ‘those people’ get their own service agencies? Why can’t they use what everyone else has to?”
This is a statement that comes from ignorance, and the real reason we have Indigenous organizations is a sad reflection of our history. They weren’t founded as a way to offer special treatment. We have Indigenous organizations because Indigenous people weren’t receiving access to other services.
I work for M’akola Housing Society, an Indigenous affordable housing provider that has been operating for nearly 35 years. The organization was founded by five Indigenous leaders in the community because landlords in the city wouldn’t rent to Indigenous people. Yes, you really did just read that.
I’ve been told stories about apartment buildings with signs that read: “Apartment for rent. Natives don’t apply.” Yes, you read that correctly, too.
These are shocking statements and it’s appalling that this happened at all. Thirty-five years isn’t a very long time ago for that behaviour to have occurred, and it’s unfortunate that similar things are still happening.
I have a friend who used to work for another affordable-housing provider that was not specifically geared toward Indigenous people. She said applicants would call and ask if the organization would rent to Indigenous people. She answered, puzzled: “Yes we do,” not really understanding why they would even ask such a question.
Some of the applicants explained to her that when a potential landlord heard they were Indigenous, the home they were asking about would suddenly be filled. This would happen time and time again. That’s why they would call and ask the question, to make sure they were not wasting their time filling out an application.
These stories aren’t only isolated to affordable housing; every Indigenous organization has similar stories.
These are important stories to share because these are the reasons Indigenous organizations exist, and for behaviours to change, people have to be made aware. If there weren’t racism, bias and unfair stereotyping, there would be no need to have services geared toward minorities or marginalized populations.
I am proud to work for an Indigenous organization that provides safe, affordable housing to Indigenous people across the province.
“Indigenous organizations such as M’akola Housing Society were created to level the playing field, to create an equal opportunity and to thrive and succeed — without it, how could we expect anyone to live successfully and achieve everything that they may have?” said M’akola CEO Kevin Albers.
There is so much good that comes out of Indigenous organizations, and often these organizations are paving the way and demonstrating successful practices for other non-profit organizations that serve a variety of demographics. At M’akola, we have a development team and they are building thousands of homes in the province for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Even with all the good the organization is doing, it still makes me sad to hear the reasoning for its inception.
“Every Indigenous organization I am aware of was created as a reaction to racism and discrimination,” said Kendra Gage, executive director of Hulitan Family and Community Services Society. “Friendship centres were founded so Indigenous people living away from their home communities had a safe place to go.”
In Gage’s line of work, she said, it’s more than providing family services to clients, it’s about running the organization in a culturally sensitive way. “Indigenous organizations are grounded in cultural teachings and Indigenous world views. Indigenous communities see the world differently, and we honour that.”
When people receive quality services and assistance, it helps build a solid foundation. When people feel valued and supported, they have a sense of belonging. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and to be treated fairly. Indigenous people make great students, employees and tenants, and raise good children.
One of the most important things we can do is to educate people about why things are the way they are. We have to remind people that Indigenous organizations weren’t founded for special treatment, they were founded for fair treatment.
Charla Huber is the director of communications and Indigenous relations for M’akola Group of Societies.