By Jaymie L. White
Special to Wreckhouse Press
STEPHENVILLE — Being home to three distinct Indigenous groups, the Inuit, the Innu, and the Mi’kmaq, Newfoundland and Labrador is steeped in Indigenous culture and heritage. The influence of the Indigenous culture can be seen in many of the traditions still present in the province today such as hunting, fishing, trapping, and snowshoeing. To ensure the culture is celebrated and preserved, organizations such as the Qalipu Cultural Foundation exist.
The foundation, which was formed in 2014, strives to inspire Indigenous people across the province to embrace their heritage and helps to empower individuals and groups to continue their unique traditions through cultural workshops, programming, and resources.
Jeff Young, Executive Director of the Qalipu Cultural Foundation, said they have many programs to offer, but their longest running is their most popular as many community groups continue to seek support.
“One program we have now – it’s been running for several years – it’s the Community Cultural Support Program that provides grants to grassroots Indigenous organizations to host cultural-related workshops and other cultural related events in their communities. It’s a quarterly intake and grants are up to $2,000. We get a lot of applications each quarter, so it’s very popular.”
Young said this program is especially important to help communities share the Indigenous culture and keep it alive, and since the devastating discoveries at residential schools in Canada, it holds even more significance.
“We had a lot of people reach out for National Indigenous Peoples Day. That’s when we get a lot of requests, and last year we even sold the Mi’kmaq Grand Council Flag and those were sold in no time. It seems like there’s more importance put onto it now. We have a lot of allies, non-Indigenous people that like to be connected to learn about Indigenous cultures.”
Because of COVID, a lot of organizations have had to shift to more virtual events and workshops, and the Qalipu Cultural Foundation has had to do the same.
“We usually have several fundraisers and in-person events. I know with a lot of the grassroots organizations that received funding, they couldn’t host their events as they would be in person, so we are doing a lot virtually. We also usually have an annual gala. It’s a dinner and silent auction that’s usually held every year, but its been two years since we’ve had it. It’s a large fundraiser that brings in a lot of dollars to the foundation.”
The annual gala will be taking place this year for the first time since the pandemic began. The date of the auction will be June 18, 2022 and it will be held in Grand Falls-Windsor at the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts. It is hoped that tickets will go on sale by April 1, and Young said the goal is to bring in at least $5,000.
“Everybody’s extremely excited to be able to get back together and have a large gathering, be able to eat, talk, and socialize in person instead of on Zoom.”
Because of the inability to host the auction last year, the foundation did what they could to make up the difference in funding so they could continue to provide assistance to those who need it.
“We did have a bit of support from the provincial and federal government on different programs and funding that helped to somewhat replace that, and we did have an online auction which did bring in a few dollars, but nothing comparable.”
There’s a new program being offered, which is giving Indigenous people a broader view of their community, province, and country by offering new perspectives on a variety of different subjects. Young said it is already showing promise, as two groups of 12 have already registered for classes.
“Right now, we have an Indigenous Leaders of Tomorrow Program, where people aged from 16-30 can register for this six-month program, it’s a bi-weekly intake with bi-weekly classes, and in each class they will learn about a different subject. We have everything from cultural diversity, finance, Indigenous governance, food sustainability, so there’s a large variety of classes offered and will help prepare them for future involvement in their communities.”
Young said they want to offer this as an annual program that will begin every winter and end in the early summer.
Another focus is to assist Indigenous households cope with the rising cost of living.
“Right now for our Traditional Food Support Program, we are giving out $100 gift cards to 237 households, and we have another program coming up where we are going to be passing out COVID support kits to the vulnerable population. We have 1,000 that will be distributed throughout Newfoundland. Those will contain traditional medicines, masks, sanitizer and resources.”
There will be another food program soon that will involve a popular chef from Saskatchewan hosting a two-day cooking class for two groups, where they will receive a recipe list and be reimbursed with a gift card for their purchases.
The Foundation has many goals over the next fiscal year which include an increase in support for grassroots organizations, supporting youth in post-secondary studies, engaging up to 30,000 people in cultural programming, resources, and events, and offering culturally sensitive personal and professional development to youth. Young said there is another focus that he hopes to continue which became very prevalent throughout the pandemic.
“I guess there was a silver-lining with COVID because now, where we are doing a lot more online, we are reaching a lot more Indigenous people in the province and even people from this province who are living away. It’s giving them the opportunity to join in and be a part of the community.”