Unity over division: Federal funding of anti-racism projects ignites optimism

·4 min read

Tanya Ward-Schur believes positive changes are coming.

And that’s why Ward-Schur, the community facilitator for Urban Aboriginal Voices, a non-profit organization based in Red Deer, Alta., was feeling upbeat during a virtual news conference on Monday.

The news conference included former Olympian Adam van Koeverden, now an MP and the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth.

Minister Bardish Chagger had previously announced the federal government would be investing $15 million for 85 anti-racism initiatives across the country.

These projects are via the national Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy.

Monday’s announcement included details on 13 of these projects, which will take place in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. These projects will collectively receive $2 million in funding.

Ward-Schur said Urban Aboriginal Voices doesn’t provide direct services but instead does the work of governance.

“We bring people together in the old ways to have conversations about improving services for Indigenous people in central Alberta,” she said.

Ward-Schur said Elders have long maintained culture is key to positive self-esteem.

“We really believe that as our young people ground themselves in their culture, ceremony and identity that they will have both the confidence and the skills to move forward and make the great changes that we have been told by our Elders that are coming about in this new season in Indigenous peoples history across Turtle Island,” she said.

Ward-Schur said federal funds her organization will receive will go towards building an innovative and engaging way for young people to develop those skills to have discussions about bullying, anti-racism, discrimination and build leadership skills.

“We’re going to train several groups of youth and cohorts to directly address discrimination by having anti-discrimination, anti-racism conversations in the old style and traditional style in a circle, peace-making circles,” she said.

“We’re going to teach our youngsters leadership skills and employability skills to facilitate these conversations in their communities… at schools, places where they experience and where they witness racism or discrimination happening.”

Ward-Schur is hopeful positive impacts will be made across Canada.

“We want to empower peace all over the country,” she said. “I also believe that diversity is Canada’s greatest strength.”

Thona Longneck, the director of Saskatchewan Health Authority for First Nations and Métis Health, also participated in Monday’s announcement.

She welcomed the financial support from the federal government.

“Reconciliation in Canada is challenging and multi-faceted,” Longneck said. “This funding enables us to continue implementing our organizational commitments to the TRC Calls to Action. This important work cannot proceed in a meaningful and impactful way without the proper funding.”

Longneck said the federal money will go towards work that is already being done.

“Our goal is to continue strengthening our relationships with First Nations and Métis partners throughout Saskatchewan in order to move towards a more inclusive, equitable and culturally responsive health care system,” she said.

As for van Koeverden, he realizes it was extremely important for the federal government to implement an anti-racism strategy.

“The current pandemic has exposed and amplified the many systemic inequalities that exist in this country,” he said. “I’m conscious of the fact that discrimination is still present in society and there remains a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done, work that our government is committed to doing.”

He added he believes positive changes can be made, in part, through the projects the Canadian government will provide funding for.

“I’m also quite optimistic that by taking steps together we can eliminate obstacles and create a stronger society that emphasizes unity over division,” van Koeverden said.

Besides supporting Indigenous people, the national anti-racism strategy is also geared towards other racialized communities and religious minorities.

“We’re excited about some of the innovative ways that local organizations are tackling racism ,such as using sport to bridge cultures,” said van Koeverden, a former kayaker who won four medals while representing Canada at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics.

He said other projects will develop culturally appropriate programs that will focus on people, relationships and the community.

“Only together can we work and build a better and safer and consciously more inclusive Canada,” he said.

Jim Carr, the MP for Winnipeg South Centre and the prime minister’s special representative to the Prairies, also took part in Monday’s announcement.

Carr was pleased to hear about anti-racism projects that will be implemented in the three western provinces.

“It’s another way for us to fight systemic racism in Canada,” he said.


By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CFWE