In late October, Closer to Home Community Services and Siksika Nation signed a historic agreement — a first-of-its-kind memorandum of understanding that both groups hope provides better support services for Indigenous families in Calgary.

“We are excited and humbled to be partners in this journey,” said Karen Olivier, chief executive officer of Closer to Home, in a joint news release. 

The partnership flows from federal legislation passed in 2019 that affirmed Indigenous communities’ jurisdiction in child and family services.

Closer to Home supports families with an approach grounded in the Teaching Family Model – an evidence-based, trauma-informed process equipping families with tools to support themselves and their children early on. 

Olivier said this method aims to preserve family relationships “at all costs” while ensuring families become more resilient.

“We are very strategic about what we provide to a family because they all have strengths, and we’re there to help them uncover that,” Olivier said. “We want parents to be the ones who are empowered to help themselves and help their children.”

The Siksika Nation has nearly 8,000 members, many of whom live in around Calgary.

Authentically supporting Indigenous families is central to Closer to Home Services’ mission as well. Olivier said the last 15 years focused on becoming familiar with Indigenous culture and how to best offer assistance.

The new agreement extends this goal, while also formalizing the partnership and addressing three key areas that will enable Siksika to better support their members:

  • Training and employment,
  • Affordable housing
  • Creating access to Indigenous knowledge and teachings in the city. 

Hope for the future

The organization hopes the new deal will offer more career options for young people living on reserve.

“We’re not just talking about moving our services to the reserve,” Olivier said. “We’re talking about building an infrastructure and training a workforce to be able to provide services to themselves in a cultural, adaptive way, like in a way that makes sense for them.”

With inflation and the cost of living skyrocketing – compounded by the shaky rental market – Olivier said committing to developing affordable housing in Calgary is crucial to supporting Indigenous families’ futures.

“Nothing destabilizes the family more than a housing crisis or a financial crisis,” Olivier said. “You want to give them the best boost possible to be successful. And so then kids do better and they’ll thrive.” 

Closer to Home is also working on a major building project – building a six-story building into a community support hub.

Closer to Home Community Services CEO Karen Olivier and Chief Ouray Crowfoot sign the agreement on October 19, 2022. PHOTO: CLOSER TO HOME

The new facility includes 18 affordable housing units and dedicates 8,500 square feet to Indigenous culture and learning, extending knowledge and awareness to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people throughout the city. 

Olivier notes how through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission lens, “It’s really about prioritizing Indigenous people in that approach to make sure that they are getting services when they need them, without barrier.”

Supporting Bill C-92  

Federal legislation passed in 2019 allows Indigenous communities to create and implement their own policies surrounding child and family services so they better align with each band’s values and circumstances. It also allows children to be placed with extended family and community members.   

The agreement helps to facilitate and aid in this transfer of authority back to each reserve, outlining framework which allows Closer to Home to assist Siksika in establishing child support.   

Olivier adds that the organization looks forward to collaborating further with Siksika on these types of projects. 

Setting a precedent

No other nonprofit in Calgary has committed to an agreement such as this with an Indigenous band, according to Olivier. She hopes Closer to Home’s partnership with Siksika can change that.

“It will give them hope that it can be done and that they’ll find their way too,” Olivier said. “This cements a kind of a milestone, in terms of what these partnerships can look like, what you could take on in them, what types of agreements you can have without even knowing what that all means yet.”

Olivier adds that the agreement will only make the organization stronger, and the opportunity to collaborate is enough in itself.

Editors Note: A previous version of this story has been edited to better reflect Closer to Home’s mission.

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