Jarred Baker has seen over the years how the simple act of lending a helping hand to someone who is trying to move from a remote community into the big city has sometimes brought people to tears.
“You get a lot of tears of joy and relief because often they have already knocked on a lot of doors and haven’t been able to find any support,” Baker, the E.A.G.L.E. Urban Transition Centre (EUTU) director of urban relations said on Tuesday.
“And then they realize they’re finally going to get some help and some support here, and sometimes it can be overwhelming.”
EUTU, which was created in 2005 by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, works to help Indigenous residents transitioning from remote communities in Manitoba into urban centres like Winnipeg.
The Manitoba government announced Friday they are investing $3 million towards 11 Indigenous and northern organizations in Manitoba, and EUTU will receive approximately $155,000 to continue the work they do.
Baker said that some who have lived in a city like Winnipeg all of their lives may not even realize how difficult it can be for those coming from First Nations communities to make that adjustment.
“Some of these people are coming from fly-in communities, and have never even been out of their own community,” Baker said. “So if someone has lived on the reserve all their life, well that is just a huge, huge culture shock.”
Baker said they also try to be proactive and get people help as soon as they get to the city, rather than getting into situations where they may have to step in if there is a crisis later on.
“If these transitions do not go smoothly it can lead to homelessness, and addictions and people really struggling,” Baker said. “We want to do everything we can to prevent it from even getting to that point, so we have to be proactive.”
One of the biggest challenges Baker said their clients can struggle with is figuring out where to go and what to do to get the kinds of documents they need for things like employment, basic health care, and benefits.
“Some come here and they don’t even have any ID and don’t even know where to go and how to get these things, so it’s things like that we are helping with, and we are guiding people to the other resources available in the city, depending on what they need.
“If they don’t know where the resources are when they get here things can fall apart, and in a lot of cases they get left out there on their own.”
The centre also helps clients with finding resources and services like education, affordable housing, and health care.
According to Baker, there are a number of reasons First Nations people may decide to make the move to the city after living on reserve for many years, or in many cases all of their lives.
“It’s schools because education only goes so far up north, it’s employment because people want to find careers that would not be available back home, and often it’s medical because they don’t have the treatments like dialysis and cancer treatments where they live.”
Back in 2014 the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released Moving to the City: Housing and Aboriginal Migration to Winnipeg, a 52-page report that looks at the issue of First Nations people moving to Winnipeg and what challenges can arise from those moves.
The study states that Indigenous people who come from a First Nation community to Winnipeg are “among the most likely to experience homelessness, and are also over-represented in housing that is unaffordable, overcrowded, or in poor condition.”
The study also says that people transitioning to the city “especially those moving from reserve communities face barriers to finding quality affordable housing, report discrimination, experience high rates of poverty, and are weighed down by histories of colonialism. Many arrive with no rental history, no bank accounts and no government identification.
“Research shows that those moving to a major urban centre for the first time have to learn to adapt to a new culture and a new way of life.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun