Anishnabeg Outreach is an incorporated non-profit organization guided by a volunteer Board of Directors. We work primarily with the non-profit sector and are guided by a clear mission and set of values. We provide Indigenous people with access to culturally appropriate services and strive to support individuals with direction and assistance to overcome barriers. We encourage individual exploration of avenues that will lead to self-sufficiency and success.
A centralized space for Indigenous people to grow, learn and be a beacon for future generations. A place where we involve the entire person – including their families and their connections. Before moving on to our dreams, it is important to remember and reflect on our roots and our growth.
As I muse on the past few years, it is with extreme pleasure and a slight hint of giddiness at the progress that has been made. When I first joined AO’s board, I listened and tried to hear what was happening and to see how the board was operating. I began to ask questions and seek out clarity. As other like-minded board members began to share their views and their direction, I knew we were on to something. We wanted to make significant changes in the operations of Anishnabeg Outreach as well as set AO on a new path that would set us apart. There is a great deal of personal and professional history attached to the growth of Anishnabeg Outreach within the KW community. As a board, we wanted to optimize that position and take AO in a new direction. A direction that would solidify AO as a leader in Indigenous run organizations – through operations, strategic direction and an overall positive image.
It took some doing because everyone has busy lives and as a volunteer board, the work we do is outside of regular working hours. Many people have and continue to give up their personal time to move this organization forward. Through the incredible gift of the donation of a house, and the funds from the sale of the house, we were then able to take our organization in a different direction. We set out to hire an Executive Director who has business experience and a vision to guide AO in the direction the board wanted it to go. Within the same time frame, we had a significant change in board membership, which distracted us from pursuing the hiring of an ED. A year passed and we finally had a job description that met our future needs as well as our future direction. Knowing that the house funds were not sustainable, part of the hiring requirements for the ED was to continue to seek out funds for their salary while growing Anishnabeg Outreach; And boy did we grow!
We are restructuring to place AO as a forerunner in Indigenous operations that revolve around sensitive spirit building and positive beneficial relationships with all. We are restructuring to ensure more efficiency and transparency as well as a solid foundation for our growth. We are setting a bold and aggressive strategic direction that involves innovative practices and a positive, proactive approach with partners and with ourselves. We are restructuring to transform AO into an incredible organization that will make the local community proud and perhaps be a leader or beacon for others. AO is changing and even though change is difficult, it can also be an incredible opportunity. It is like the seasons. We might not like past seasons or the weather of those seasons, but change is good, necessary and inevitable.
With Stephen, as the new CEO, his bold approaches to the board’s vision launched us into a new era. Since his arrival in November 2017, we reduced loss of funds, created bookkeeping processes that are transparent and began to re-market and reposition AO. We are the lead agency for our Indigenous EarlyON center as well as establishing the foundational elements to become a hub of wrap-around services. From an advertising perspective, our vision has shifted which is evident through the new logo, new website and utilizing our social media for more effective communication and promotions.
AO is branching out to engage other organizations – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous to utilize our history and reputation to begin to offer more resources and services to our First Nations, Métis, and Inuit population. The idea of a hub, or centralized service provider, is taking root by having the EarlyON as an anchor to draw in other programs and services that enable AO to provide the necessary wrap around services for their clients and families. This is all while we currently operate as an Employment Ontario agency. As the operation takes shape, our governance and strategic direction also align.
We have muddled through various challenges as many of our board members are ‘rookie’ board members and we have learned many valuable lessons along the way. We navigated difficult waters of accusations, gossip and lateral violence as we worked in confidence repairing some of the imminent issues of AO. We improved our own operations as a board and with each meeting are putting together more details, aggressive plans and communication amongst us all. For AO to grow, we as a board also need to grow and as newbies in this business of sitting as board members, we have had some bumps. But in the end, each board member has a shared vision for AO and as I like to say, “A great heart and a common purpose to make sustainable and culturally appropriate changes.”
As we begin on the journey of diversifying AO and setting AO as a leader in operations, direction and community partnerships, I am cautiously optimistic. I am cautious as there is a metaphor within the Indigenous community of ‘crabs in the bucket.’ The story goes, “Crabs in one bucket like to keep their crabs in their bucket, and if anyone tries to leave the bucket, they get pulled back in.” However, I like to think that the AO bucket is supportive, and we try to encourage our crabs to move onward and thus encourage other crabs to leave their buckets. We rely on one another, support each other and reach out to provide a hand up out of the bucket. It is time for our Indigenous ways of doing, of practicing our cultures, and there is an ongoing need to recall, and genuinely use, our values of honesty, truth, respect, courage and have those values guide our decisions in a true sense, not simply as words but as our way of moving AO toward what it was originally intended to be.
We are Indigenous, we are wholistic, we are motivated and that is what it will take to lead the next generation to the 8th Fire.
The 8th fire prophecy is described in more detail in these videos:
The 8th Fire is our future generation. They will take the spark and spirit of our ancestors, nurture it, protect it and then have it become a magnificent source of warmth, of gathering and of light for all generations and for all people.
AO is forging a new path of growth and partnerships. We aim to position ourselves as a beacon for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the Waterloo Region. The privilege and distinction of being the regions first Indigenous EarlyON is the ignition to implement significant change for our Indigenous people in the region. With the opportunity to begin to support our earlier and youngest as well as their families and caregivers, we can begin to work to change future generations and move forward in a healthy way. In a culturally relevant and respectful way, we can begin to have a foundation for our families and to enable them to create a new path for themselves.
As part of this hub, we now have the capacity for future programming to meet the varied needs of our families. These discussions with other agencies and organizations are surrounded and grounded in innovative practices that bring in experts in many disciplines associated with general wellness, Elders and Knowledge Keepers to deliver core programming with community-driven initiatives.
AO Board President
1996 – Established in Kitchener, ON as a Heavy Equipment Training Site
1998 – Guelph site opened, funded by Trillium Foundation
1999 – Sponsored by NPAAMB
2000 – Chosen as O-GI Pilot Project Site
2001 – Incorporated as a not for profit agency
2005 – Designated Charitable Organization
2005 – 2017 Established a reputation as an employment service delivery organization for urban Indigenous as well as a resource for non-Indigenous organizations to obtain contacts.
March 2017 – Developed a strategic partnership with NPAAMB
November 2017 – Hired a new CEO – Stephen Jackson
February 2018 – AO began its search for a new headquarters
March 2018 – After first 3-year plan was mostly completed, a 10-year strategic plan was developed to include an expanded mandate that provides for the creation and development of an Urban Indigenous Centre for Healing with integrated services and innovative economic development, training and employment plans for reserve-based Indigenous communities
March 2018 – Bold new for profit initiative and partnership with AO Home Services and its new website (aohome.ca) launched
March 2018 – Established a fresh look with new logos and rebranded for a bright future and new direction
March 2018 – Awarded funding from Region of Waterloo for the establishment of an Indigenous EarlyON
June 2018 – Launch of our new aocan.org website which describes our new service offerings
August 2018 – Partnership with St. Phillips Lutheran Church and Eastern Synod to help purchase 236 Woodhaven Road, Kitchener to create our first Indigenous centre of healing
September 2018 – AO adds a brand-new state of the art Applicant Tracking System to support job seekers more efficiently & effectively
October 2018 – AO purchases a building to house Employment Centre, AO EarlyON and Centre for Healing in Kitchener
November 2018 – AO begins renovations to create space AO EarlyON, Employment Centre and Healing programs
September 2019 – EarlyON opens for business
January 2020 – Employment agency moves to Centre of Healing location
March 2020 – EarlyON is serving 100 children a day before COVID-19 shutdown
April 2020 – AO creates a donation-based warehouse, launches its Spirit Bundle program and begins delivering essential food, household items, clothing and other needs to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit families in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph
April 2020- All EarlyON and Employment programming is shifted to online during the pandemic
May 2020- AO builds medicine gardens, teaching lodge, healing lodge and a variety of other outdoor projects
July 2020 – AO builds best practice EarlyON programs
October 2020 – AO partners with Communitech to build a national Indigenous Tech Mentoring program
February 2021 – AO launches its Indigenous Wellness and Healing Services Unit