IRCOM's model of engagement with Indigenous communities

Nurturing strong relationships between Indigenous and newcomer communities has guided IRCOM’s strategy and programming for over a decade.


IRCOM’s aim is to work in partnership with Indigenous and other community organizations to help build safe, inclusive, and resilient neighborhoods for all in Winnipeg. The Truth and Reconcilation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action (in particular #93 and #94, directed at newcomers) and the language and concepts of reconciliation have further strengthened this aim.


Partnerships with Indigenous organizations, and guidance by Indigenous staff, cultural advisors, and elders are essential to IRCOM’s bridge-building work. IRCOM partners with Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, an Indigenous youth-driven advocacy organization, and other groups to gain an understanding of the truths of 500 years of cultural genocide/genocide, as an integral part of reconciliation.

Strategic Plan

In IRCOM’s three-year Strategic Plan (2015-2018) one of the four strategic directions was “Nurturing Strong Indigenous-newcomer relations.” In its latest Strategic Plan (2018-2021), IRCOM renewed this strategic priority, now phrased as “Encouraging meaningful Indigenous-newcomer relationships”. Embedding Indigenous-newcomer relations in the strategic plan helps ensure that IRCOM staff, board and volunteers are consistently positive and on-board with building and strengthening relationships.

Programs & Events

Integrated programs: Awareness of Indigenous issues is integrated in various programs including:

  • Inviting Indigenous guest speakers to English as a Secondary Language (ESL) classes;
  • Including Indigenous-themed activities, such as crafts, in the child care program and an Indigenous map of Canada in the ESL program;
  • Supporting integrated sports/youth events. IRCOM’s sports teams are open to Indigenous youth. A range of inner-city youth participate in IRCOM-supported competitive sports events (often in partnership with other organizations), such as basketball tournaments. IRCOM and Dufferin School held a joint program for parents and preschoolers called “Wiggle, Giggle, Munch,” with both newcomer and Indigenous participants;
  • Welcoming Indigenous children to IRCOM’s after school drop-in programs.

Common Ground, Stronger Voices program: As IRCOM’s work in this area evolved, a need for program-specific funding was met by an initial grant from the Province of Manitoba in 2017-8. For the first time IRCOM was able to hire staff dedicated to bridge-building efforts, with a focus on hiring Indigenous staff. The goal of the program is to enhance relationships between Indigenous peoples and newcomers at an individual, community and organizational level. It also aims to build safer, more integrated, stable central neighbourhoods in Winnipeg with a focus on the local neighbourhoods where IRCOM’s two residential facilities, housing 110 newcomer families, are located. Organizationally, Common Ground aims to create a more informed staff body through training and education, exposure and partnership activities, and to build a more inclusive organization by examining our approaches, systems and practices. For example, through this program IRCOM has gained a level of awareness around the richness that occurs through diversity and inclusion in hiring practices. IRCOM aims to disseminate job postings to Indigenous partner organizations and Indigenous employment organizations. Recently this program was afforded greater continuity through the generous support of the United Way of Winnipeg, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, and the Winnipeg Foundation through their new Reconciliation Fund. 

Presentations by IRCOM at conferences and gatherings: Topics presented address the potential contradictions in settlement work and the process of decolonization and challenge the settlement sector to work towards inclusive communities. Topics include the understanding of “Canadian cultural norms and values”, “successful settlement and integration and how it fits with decolonization”, and “Citizenship/nationhood”.

Indigenous events: IRCOM staff/management attend other organizations’ Indigenous cultural events, such as Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Keep the Fires Burning, or Rossbrook Houses’ Annual Pow Wow.

Education & Awareness Raising

Workshops for newcomers: In these workshops Indigenous facilitators, cultural advisors, Elders and allies share teachings with newcomer participants. Indigenous ceremonies and traditions are explained (e.g., smudge, sharing circle, closing circle). Discussions about human rights (basic needs: housing, rent, money management; citizenship, justice, colonization and resistance) are explored and gaps in knowledge and understanding are addressed (e.g., residential schools, 60s scoop, child welfare/millennial scoop). A priority is to use Indigenous history, knowledge, and perspectives to build trust, empathy and understanding. Some workshop activities include:

  • Presenting knowledge of traditional herbs, roots and teas for healing;
  • Opening workshops with Indigenous drumming, song, and prayer;
  • Hosting Sharing Circles;

Bridge-building events: IRCOM works with partner organizations to host or participate in events where Indigenous community members meet face-to-face with newcomers to discuss topics to overcome distrust and build mutual understanding. Often these events involve cultural exchange, such as the “Across Cultures” event with Rossbrook House, a primarily Indigenous serving organization, where newcomer families and those of Rossbrook share a meal of Indigenous and ethno-cultural foods and watch family members perform. IRCOM participates in other bridge building events, including:

  • “Meet me at the Bell Tower” community-building and anti-violence rallies hosted by Aboriginal Youth Opportunities, an Indigenous-youth led movement for social change in the North End of Winnipeg;
  • Youth Cross-Cultural Dialogue Retreat (Youth Peace Camp) in a summer camp setting where youth from Indigenous, newcomer and other communities use peace-building and inter-cultural dialogue techniques to build lasting connections, empathy and awareness. In 2017, a Masters student produced a set of manuals;
  • Community Safety Walks with local neighbourhood partners, to help address the common experiences of all groups living in the inner-city around safety;
  • Conferences addressing Indigenous and newcomer issues, including:
    • “Building Bridges Between Canada’s Indigenous and Newcomer Groups” in May 2017.  Hosted by IRCOM, the Migration Research Law Cluster/University of Manitoba, and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation this conference drew Elders, artists, community workers, activists, youth and academics from Winnipeg and from across Canada. The conference included two powerful educational events – the Bread and Borders event (about refugee claimants) and the Kairos Blanket Exercise. An objective of the conference was to facilitate dialogue between Indigenous and newcomer communities to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Read the report
    • One year later, in May 2018, IRCOM hosted a “Gallery Walk” where attendees volunteered to be at various stations around the room, to present their work on bridge-building, and the other attendees walked around in small groups  or “tours” and attended three-minute talks from each presenter. 
    • “Youth Building Bridges” conference hosted by IRCOM in partnership with a number of Indigenous organizations including Ma Mawi, Spence Neighborhood Association and NEEDS. An Elder was present to share teachings and ceremony and forty youth attended this two-day conference which brought neighbours together for the first time.
  • For a number of years, IRCOM co-organized the “Grill N Chill” with Rossbrook House and local and governmental agencies. Sometimes combined with Rossbrook’s Fall Carnival, it included Indigenous, newcomer and other communities. Events include entertainment, bouncy castle, carnival games, and Halal hot dogs.

Creation of welcoming space: IRCOM is aware that a safe and welcoming space at IRCOM’s two sites helps further bridge-building and mutual understanding. Initiatives include:

  • Hanging posters of the Seven Sacred Teachings  - with the faces of Indigenous activists, leaders and community members (Manitobans);
  • Proposing an outdoor art project to reflect Indigenous and various newcomer traditions, as a visible sign of welcome;
  • Opening all events, including tenant and staff meetings, with the Treaty Acknowledgement; and inviting an Elder/Cultural Advisor to open larger events with Indigenous ceremony, song, drumming and prayer;
  • Including Treaty Acknowledgements in email signatures of IRCOM staff.

Resource development

Pow Wow Protocol: IRCOM has developed this protocol for staff and updates it annually to include a list of Pow Wow dates and venues as well as wording for the Treaty Acknowledgement to recite at the start of Pow Wows.

Indigenous History Simulation for Newcomers: In 2017-2018, IRCOM, with an Emerging Leaders Fellowship recipient (Winnipeg Foundation), created an educational simulation similar to the Forced Migration Simulation. IRCOM presented this simulation at the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Language Training and Assessment Conference held in early 2018. Resources here.

Staff education and awareness: IRCOM holds a “Super Orientation” for new staff approximately every six months. “Super O” is a full week of mandatory training including IRCOM History and Values and “Refugee 101,” workplace-related themes as well as workshops on Inclusion, Indigenous Awareness/Bridge-Building, and others. These workshops are mandatory for all staff. For “Super O” IRCOM developed a mandatory staff workshop drawing from case stories. IRCOM staff members have been trained in the Kairos Blanket Exercise, a role play/simulation on the history of colonization to the current day. Based on staff feedback regarding the impact of the training, this exercise has replaced our earlier workshop and is our core mandatory training on Indigenous awareness. Other initiatives include:

  • Lunch‘n learn discussion on CBC’s 8th Fire Series videos about the need for Canada to mend its relationship with Indigenous people;
  • After School Program at the local Boys and Girls drop in site where IRCOM staff work with Indigenous and newcomer children and youth to develop relationships with Indigenous families living in the neighbourhood;
  • National Indigenous Peoples Day is June 21 and IRCOM encourages staff to take paid time to attend festivities when it falls on a working day.