[WATCH] Indigenous-operated non-profit organizations feed, shelter 1,400 people in Winnipeg; locate two missing women

Churches and hotels kept their doors closed due to COVID-19 restrictions even when more than 1,400 people needed protection from freezing cold
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Anishiative instagram account videos of the two week camp site structure that helped hundreds of homeless people

The freezing temperatures in Winnipeg, Manitoba, have left the homeless population in serious danger of freezing to death, with empty churches and nearby hotels keeping their doors closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Several Indigenous-operated organizations took matters into their own hands and set up teepees and prospector tents. 

Rylee Nepinak, a co-founder of Anishiative, and other volunteers provided shelter, food and clothing to over 1,400 vulnerable people in a span of two weeks at Thunderbird House. They even located two missing girls and reunited them with their families. 

Teepees set up by the volunteers to shelter people from the cold in Winnipeg

“I started Anishiative with my sister Kristyn Boubard in June last year. We follow the “Seven Sacred Teachings.” That’s what we follow when we do our work. Respect, truth, honesty, love, wisdom, humility, and courage. That’s what we encourage our youth to follow,” said Nepinak.   

Anishiative is an Indigenous-operated non-profit youth volunteer organization based in Winnipeg. Nepinak spoke to INN24 news about how his organization has helped hundreds of homeless Indigenous and other vulnerable people in the community. 

“We did it overnight. We set up the tents, and people would come and access our services throughout the day. We would offer them warm food. We would offer them essential supplies. We gave them winter gear. People would come, warm up and even sleep overnight,” said Nepinak. 

The call for volunteers through social media and word of mouth has connected Indigenous organizations to take matters into their own hands instead of waiting for government support.

“It was really a community effort. We all got together.”

During the first two weeks of operating these tents, Nepinak said they were able to locate two missing people because they showed up seeking shelter. 

“There were two missing women located because of this camp. There was one where her mother came to our camp, and she said my daughter has been missing for five days, please keep an eye out for her. Three days later, the missing girl showed up to our camp frozen, shaking and scared. We recognized her right away and called her mother and were able to reconnect them,” said Nepinak. 

Throughout the two weeks of work, Nepinak said he noticed the people in the camps were regaining their strength within themselves. Others began coming back into the community that once was avoided due to its reputation. 

People began gathering around campfires and sharing stories, helping each other and contributing to the cause by bringing whatever they could to help. 

When asked why he chose to help people and start this organization, Nepinak expressed the need to help vulnerable people without judgment. 

“I come from a traditional household that has intergenerational trauma. My father was a residential school survivor. He is with our family, and we are doing better now,” said Nepinak. 

Following their stay at the shelters, some people have been thinking of entering detox centres as they can see how good these two weeks have been for their health.   

In response to the community work these volunteers were doing, the mayor of Winnipeg, Brian Bowman, opened up a few libraries as shelters. Nepinak is now working with several organizations to develop long-term solutions that will be available all year round.  

“They are already in talks of a communal housing project in the Thunderbird campground, but the most important component they are missing is Human Connection! And that’s where Anishiative and its team of volunteers come in,” Anishiative posted on its Instagram account. 

If you are interested in donating or contributing to Anishiative please visit their social media accounts for more information.

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/anishiative_/  @anishiative_

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WinnipegAnishiative/

Wiki Production Code: A0639

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