Who We Are
Circle of Life Thunderbird House is a registered charitable organization that has become an integral part of the Aboriginal community in Winnipeg since opening its doors in March 2000.
The mission of Circle of Life Thunderbird House is to be:
- a focal point for promoting, organizing and conducting the functions of Elders/Teachers, which include the dispensation of traditional guidance, ceremonial functions and spiritual services.
- a center for the meeting of cultures to foster understanding and sharing;
a place for activities and learning,
- a place for the advancement and well being, prosperity, health and welfare of all people in the City of Winnipeg; and,
- a gathering place for all people.
The four values of kindness, caring, sharing and truth guide all activities of Circle of Life Thunderbird House. Circle of Life Thunderbird House views much of its role in the community as that of a teacher:
- Helping out within the community to support Aboriginal people to learn more about their own culture and spirituality;
- Supporting Aboriginal organizations to access traditional supports, Elders and teachers;
Assisting the non-Aboriginal community to learn about Aboriginal traditions, practices and ceremonies in order to promote stronger understandings;
- Illustrating, by example, ways to care for those that are alone, hungry or homeless or do not have someone to stand with them;
- Promoting awareness of Aboriginal Peoples in Manitoba and the significance of Aboriginal Peoples to the history of Manitoba; and
- Supporting the activities of Aboriginal organizations in the community through the facilitation of meetings and the use of gathering space.
The building is also open to other faiths and traditions to use the facilities for their ceremonies or other gatherings.
Circle of Life Thunderbird House is the outcome of a dynamic community vision, one part of a broader development called Neeginan (a Cree word for “our place”) first conceived in 1969 by the Winnipeg Indian and Metis Friendship Centre. In 1972, a coalition of some 21 Aboriginal organizations unanimously passed a resolution supporting the establishment of an Aboriginal Centre as suggested in the Neeginan plan. Neeginan was envisioned as a campus of learning, commerce and celebration, and the Circle of Life Thunderbird House (then called the Round House) was to be the spiritual anchor for the project.
A coordinating body was incorporated and feasibility planning was undertaken in 1974, however, it was several years before the plan began to take physical shape. Eventually, through the Winnipeg Development Agreement, both the Provincial and Civic governments committed resources to the renewal of Main Street and the area north of Higgins Avenue. The Government of Canada contributed by assisting with the transformation of the historic CP Rail Station into the Aboriginal Centre. The City contributed, for a nominal fee, the property at the corner of Higgins Avenue and Main Street that was to become the home of Circle of Life Thunderbird House.
It was also decided at this time that the Neeginan Development Corporation was to hold initial title to Circle of Life Thunderbird House for only 10 years, and would then transfer the title to the community.
The revitalization of the “Round House” concept started in 1988 when a meeting of an Elders’ Council with Architect Douglas Cardinal created a vision for the building. This was presented to the community, and the concept and model were accepted by those gathered, of which there were no fewer than 300 people present.
The building officially opened on a sunrise-to-sunset day of ceremony, feast, honour and prayer on the Vernal Equinox, March 21st, 2000.
The unique vision that became Circle of Life Thunderbird House is a direct result of Winnipeg’s Aboriginal population and their need for spiritual growth and healing.
Within Winnipeg’s urban community, there are a number of community stakeholders that Circle of Life Thunderbird House is committed to working with:
Urban, inner city Aboriginal youth and families, especially those at risk
Urban non-Aboriginal community members
Inner City Schools
Urban Aboriginal agencies and community-based service organizations
Government — city, provincial and federal
Private funding agencies and individuals
Winnipeg’s Aboriginal Population
The growth of Winnipeg’s aboriginal population has been dramatic in recent years, increasing by 22% since the 2001 Census, compared with only 1% for Winnipeg’s non-Aboriginal population. According to 2006 Census data released by Statistics Canada, more aboriginal people live in Winnipeg than in any other major city in Canada. In 2006, the total Aboriginal population (defined as those who said they were Indian, Métis or Inuit) in Winnipeg was 68,380, equaling 10% of the city’s total population of 633,451. [Statistics Canada, 2007. Winnipeg Manitoba (table). 2006 Community Profiles. 2006 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 920591-XWE Ottawa. Released March 13, 2007]
Projected population increases indicate that at least 1 in 5 and perhaps as many as 1 in 3 labor market entrants over the next fifteen to twenty years in Manitoba will be of Aboriginal descent.
Aboriginal people living in urban centers such as Winnipeg face overwhelming problems that are rooted in cultural dislocation, powerlessness, discrimination and poverty. These problems are manifestations of the generational and multi-generational impacts of the abuses and losses incurred as consequences of a host of historical injustices experienced by Aboriginal people in Canada including, of course, the Residential School System
Notwithstanding continuing government, public, private and community efforts and significant progress in addressing Aboriginal issues, Statistics Canada analysis shows that the Aboriginal community continues to have a higher incidence of low income, higher unemployment rates, lower labour force participation rates, and lower educational levels than the non-Aboriginal population.
It is also clear that:
Steady migration of Aboriginal people to urban centers continues to over-tax existing social support systems;
There continue to be limited resources available to address poverty, homelessness and housing shortages, educational needs and daycare;
Aboriginal peoples continue to be significantly over-represented in all negative social indicators including; incarceration and detention, gang involvements, drug and alcohol abuse, youth violence, family and societal violence; and
There continues to be a steady increase in poor health indicators (diabetes, heart disease, STD’s, cancers of all types, etc.) in the Aboriginal population.
In the City of Winnipeg, Aboriginal people are heavily concentrated in low-income neighborhoods, and these areas are highly concentrated in the inner city — a quick walk or bus ride to Circle of Life Thunderbird House, which is located at a key downtown intersection.
Winnipeg’s inner-city area has a particularly intense concentration of poverty-induced social and economic problems. According to a 2005 report by The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 19.2% of the residents of Winnipeg’s inner-city are Aboriginal, with at least two neighbourhoods located within close proximity of Circle of Life Thunderbird House having close to a 50% Aboriginal Population — Centennial 49.5%; Lord Selkirk Park, 54.3%.
Statistics cited in the same report also show that the 2001 Median household income of residents in Winnipeg’s inner city (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) was $26,362. In two of Winnipeg’s inner-city neighbourhoods where almost half the population is Aboriginal, the Median household income was far less — Centennial, $15,991; Lord Selkirk Park, $14,696. [*The State of the Inner City Report: 2005; Part II: A View From the Neighbourhoods. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — Manitoba]
An April 2008 report to the city’s Committee on Protection and Community Services from Winnipeg Police Services acknowledged that situations involving the city’s chronic service users with mental health issues — many of which are homeless people of Aboriginal descent — consume hundreds of thousands of dollars in public services each year, draining city resources that could be used for other things. Police Chief McCaskill went on to say that trying to get people help by getting them off the street and improving their lives, “also improves our ability to do other things, whether it’s policing, whether it’s fire, whatever.”
In a news release dated November 18, 2005, the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC), one of Canada’s primary providers of programs and services to Aboriginals living in cities and towns, called on the Federal government to address the social, cultural and economic needs of Urban Aboriginals. NAFC went on to state that public services for Aboriginal people living off reserve must be adapted to their culture and lifestyles — and that this should not solely be determined by city, provincial or federal bureaucracies.
To change these dynamics, social service programming must include a strategy that has a long-term plan for holistic human and community social development. A significant element of such a strategy is the opportunity to heal through one’s culture and spirituality, within the teachings and practices of Aboriginal wisdom and understanding. Circle of Life Thunderbird House is working toward furthering this strategy.
Last Updated (Thursday, 03 May 2012 12:47)