Urban Indigenous Service Providers

“Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. In particular, indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions.” – Article 23, UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Ottawa, while also being the capital city of Canada, is also an important city for Indigenous people. It occupies unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory; and so many Algonquins live, work, and study in their traditional territory. It is also the base for many Indigenous organizations that work closely with the federal government lobbying for their people. Others, have lived in Ottawa for generations, or may have come here recently for work and school. Finally, Ottawa is an important place for many First Nations members and Inuit, who need specialized medical care and come south, sometimes with their families for a couple of weeks or even years. There are an estimated 45,000 Indigenous people living in Ottawa.

Colleen Hele- Cardinal is co-founder and Executive Director of the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network. She is nehiyaw iskwew from Saddle Lake First Nation, AB; but she was adopted and raised in Sault Ste Marie ON. Colleen is a front-line support worker and organizes a Wellbriety and a Women’s Circle, each providing support to the urban Indigenous community. She has worked diligently to raise the issue of the 60s scoop as well as build community, support for 60s scoop survivors and bring international attention to the displacement and loss of identity 60s scoop survivors have experienced. Colleen continues to volunteer with several initiatives, including Families of Sisters in Spirit and the Nobel Women’s Initiative Sister to Sister Mentorship program to address gender-based violence, while giving context on the making of Canada, treaty relationships and the dehumanization of Indigenous people through policy and media. She is the author of Ohpikiihaakan-ohpihmeh (Raised somewhere else): A 60s Scoop Adoptee’s Story of Coming Home. Colleen was recently was awarded the Ontario Premiers Award in November 2018 for Outstanding Community work in her field and the 2019 CBC TrailBlazer award. She currently spearheads an innovative GIS mapping project Mapping the Indigenous Adoptee Disapora with the Pe-kīwēwin Project. Most importantly Colleen is the proud mother of four grown children and enjoys spending all her free time with her granddaughters.


  •  Funding needed for 24/7 safe houses to help women, children and 2SLGBTQ+ people who are living in volatile situations 
  • Funding formulas must be based on demographics and population size to adequately ensure that organizations providing front-line support to Indigenous people living in urban areas have the resources they need,
  • Funding is needed for additional transition housing and temporary rental accommodations, such as motels, hotels or rooming houses, to increase distancing between people or to provide isolation rooms in cases requiring self-quarantine
  • Beds and physical barriers must be purchased to place between beds in newly purposed facilities.
  • Culturally appropriate mental health and addictions support services are needed for people who do not necessarily have access to computers and internet


Healthcare for Indigenous people in Canada is not simple. There is a 14th layer of healthcare outside the frameworks of the provinces and territories for Inuit and First Nation members with Indian status. Many Indigenous people continuously cross jurisdictional boundaries to access the care they need – They are faced with additional challenges because federal and provincial authorities often disagree on which system should pay for which services. On top of the complicated systems of healthcare for Indigenous people, we are now in a pandemic. Resources and supports that need to go out to the majority of Indigenous people in cities, can easily get stuck while determining who holds jurisdiction and which service providers should receive monies.

Friendship centres and other organizations have been on the front lines of the pandemic and have been inundated with requests as people struggle to cope. The National Association of Friendship Centres tells us that, staff and volunteers have been cooking and delivering food and traditional medicines, responding to a rising number of calls about sexual and family violence, and helping people address their medical needs. Indigenous organizations are being asked to deliver services to community members on behalf of non-Indigenous agencies and to lead task forces to address the needs of urban Indigenous Peoples. At the same time, while more than half of Indigenous Peoples in Canada live in urban areas, the organizations that serve them received only five percent of the covid-19 emergency funds. Systems, programs, pandemic planning and public policy are still designed from a perspective that does not appropriately reflect the lives of Indigenous people.

Economic poverty is also faced by some urban Indigenous people. Historical colonization and oppression experienced by Indigenous communities has created trauma responses from cultural and spiritual disassociation, residential schools and the 60s Scoop. Coping strategies sometimes lead to unstable families and homes, and various issues such as substance use, addiction, community violence and health issues. Higher urban poverty levels often lead to a disproportionate number of people experiencing homelessness. For example, in Toronto only 0.5 percent of the population is Indigenous and yet they represent 15 percent of those living with homelessness. In the North, Indigenous Peoples account for 90 percent of those living with homelessness in Yellowknife and Whitehorse, but are just a sixth of the population of both cities.


Advocate for the federal government to respect Indigenous rights and ensure every community has the resources they need. 

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