Brandon office symbol of growth: SCO

·3 min read

Opening a new office in Brandon will allow the Southern Chiefs’ Organization to improve outreach among its members who live in Westman, says Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.

The SCO has been working to open an office in Brandon for some time to better serve, advocate for and represent its members, he said.

“We want to be able to do this for them. We want to make sure that we’re all benefiting collectively, that we’re building accountability and transparency collectively.”

The SCO represents more than 83,000 people across 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota First Nations in southern Manitoba. The new office, located at 136 11th St., features a regional community justice worker, a traditional healing program facilitator and a director of nation rebuilding for the Brandon region. A grand opening was held Thursday.

The organization has been involved in some major projects provincially, such as the transformation of the Hudson’s Bay Company heritage building in downtown Winnipeg into a space for economic and social reconciliation. Daniels said there’s no reason a project like that couldn’t happen in Brandon.

“We will be looking to build similar partnerships here within the private sector and industry,” he said.

Mayor Jeff Fawcett said the ambition and innovation of the SCO is nothing short of impressive, and the City of Brandon plans to work hand-in-hand with the organization on future projects that aim to strengthen the voice of the local Indigenous community.

“Having the SCO here gives us a higher level of Indigenous government and higher-level decision-makers right here in the city, and I think that’s really important to have,” Fawcett said.

The SCO has a unique ability to begin new work and complement work that is already being done within the city, the mayor added.

“This is what we need in this area for our community.”

Building local support for Indigenous people living with the effects of colonization and forming connections with people who have wisdom and experience is something the new SCO office location will facilitate through the programming it offers, according to Daniels.

Amanda Chapman is a regional community justice worker with SCO who works out of the Brandon office. With so many member First Nations in the Westman region, it makes sense for people to have a place in Brandon to work with the SCO, rather than travelling to Winnipeg, she said.

“We’re just starting off, and we’re building. We’re starting small, but it’ll evolve, and a lot of it will be based on the needs and what we’re hearing in the community,” Chapman said.

Melissa Hotain, director of nation rebuilding with the SCO in Brandon, works to connect Indigenous people, groups and communities with elders, knowledge keepers and other experts who can reconnect them with their culture and values — systems that were robbed from them as a result of colonization, residential schools and the ’60s Scoop.

“It’s really about unity as well,” Hotain said. “It’s building unity amongst the Dakota, amongst the Anishinaabe.”

The goal of nation rebuilding, she added, is to eventually create a new but traditional form of governance for SCO member nations to operate under, similar to how the National Government of the Red River Métis operates, with different departments, ministers and portfolios.

Chief Lola Thunderchild of Canupawakpa Dakota Nation, located 95 kilometres southwest of Brandon, attended the event with her daughter Molly Taylor, who presented Daniels with a star blanket. With the opening of the new office, the people of Thunderchild’s community will no longer have to make the 309-kilometre trek east to Winnipeg to work with the SCO.

“It’s going to be a great access point for local communities who utilize the SCO,” she said.

Echoing Chapman’s words, the opening of the new office is just the beginning for the SCO’s greater presence in Westman, Daniels said.

“We want to continue to build off of this.”

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun