Modest Fund, Mighty Impact

With the Aboriginal Services Fund, two private individuals are helping people they care about deeply

For Indigenous people from First Nations and rural communities, arriving in Edmonton presents unfamiliar challenges.

Whether they’re coming for work or school, bringing their children for emergency health care, or being released from jail into the community, they may feel overwhelmed, lost, alone.

The New in Town program assists them. Run by the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, it is accessible 24 hours a day through a help line, Facebook and email, and often by immediate greeting.

“When Greyhound was downtown, (its) staff would refer people to our after-hours number when they’d see someone with that ‘What next?’ look on their face,” says Cheryl Whiskeyjack, the society’s executive director.

New in Town is supported, in part, by the Aboriginal Services Fund, one of Edmonton Community Foundation’s funds serving the Indigenous community.

The fund was started in 2014, by a donor who was moved to consider systemic injustices Indigenous people endure, after the Canadian government’s 2008 official apology for residential schools.

“When you see children growing up in challenging situations, you have to ask, were I in that situation, would I be able to come out of it well?” said the man, who started the fund with his wife and wishes to be anonymous. “I don’t think I’d have that strength.”

While the fund’s grant total to date is modest—approximately $2,300—its impact is not.

Noel Xavier, a donor advisor at Edmonton Community Foundation says, “some people think that only millionaires can start endowments but that is simply not true. At ECF, it’s about the impact that people can make together to create a sustainable future for the causes they care about most.”

The fund has also assisted Theatre Prospero, helping to support Pawâkan Macbeth, an Indigenous retelling of Shakespeare’s play that began with a 2015 residency in the Frog Lake Cree school.

And it contributed to Native Counselling Services of Alberta, which helps Indigenous people gain fair and equitable access to the province’s justice, children services and corrections systems.

“It’s been wonderful to hear about the grants that have been made from our fund,” says the donor. “We have told our young children about the fund and our family plans to make more donations to it over time.”