Strengthening our connections to Indigenous communities
Minobidmaadziwin means ‘a good life’ in Ojibwe/Anishinaabemowin, an Indigenous language of the Great Lakes region. At the American Indian Health & Family Services (AIHFS) health centre in Detroit, Michigan, the employees, volunteers, and community rally together to bring minobidmaadziwin to people in need.
One of those volunteers is Stantec marketing specialist Brita Brookes, who has been part of the AIHFS community since 2009. When it came time for Brita’s Berkley, Michigan colleagues to select an organization to support for Stantec in the Community (SITC) Week 2018, she knew they’d share her passion for the cause.
Supporting local Indigenous organizations
Established in 1978, AIHFS is a non-profit health clinic open to people with or without insurance. The organization provides comprehensive, culturally integrated services in the areas of medical services, behavioural health services, infant and parent services, cultural services, Dream Seekers youth programs (to youth aged 8-17 that focuses on balancing the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of our youth and families), and health and wellness.
“I first visited AIHFS to help with Anishinaabemown language classes held in collaboration with University of Michigan Native American students and the Dream Seekers youth group in the main assembly hall,” says Brita. The word Anishinaabemowin is used when referring to the ‘languages of the Anishinaabe.’
Brita has been involved in projects in the regional Indigenous community for almost 10 years. Her involvement began when she was invited to take a seat at the University of Michigan’s School of Language, Sciences and the Arts Native American Studies Ojibwe community language table by Professor Margaret Noodin. Though she is not indigenous in heritage, Brita was invited to join the group as a University of Michigan alumna. “The sessions were always fun; I loved the way the group embraced traditions, and how full of laughter they were.”
Over time, Brita met more people in the community, including AIHFS community wellness director Nickole Fox, who helped Brita organize the SITC Week. “I was so excited to connect with Brita on this project,” said Nickole, “Brita has been a volunteer for AIHFS and an amazing asset to the community here in Southeastern Michigan. The possibility of connecting with Stantec sounded like one that would benefit our youth at AIHFS greatly.”
Stantec employees help AIHFS during SITC Week
Brita and her colleagues from Stantec’s Berkley, Michigan office helped weed, harvest, and maintain AIHFS’s large community garden and its local medicine garden, which the organization uses to educate people about gardening, food safety, and self-sufficiency. The team also helped complete an interior wall mural that had been destroyed during a flood at the center. Stantec volunteers also directly impacted AIHFS through contributing their time as part of a grant’s non-federal match requirement.
“AIHFS has had a direct impact on my life in all kinds of good ways, and to be able to help as a volunteer alongside my colleagues for Stantec in the Community Week was a wonderful way to give back,” says Brita.
Brita is part of the Stantec Indigenous Relations talking group based in Calgary, Alberta. This team provides Stantec employees and clients with direct knowledge and experience working with Indigenous people.
“As part of this group, I recognized volunteering with AIHFS as a team would be a great way to open a door to a new cultural experience for my teammates,” says Brita. “Prior to our day at AIHFS, volunteers listened to an introduction about the tribes in the United States, learned about the organization’s impact in Michigan, and were invited to participate in an optional smudge ceremony.”
Brita had co-workers thank her personally for the experiences of both learning about another culture and of volunteering with AIHFS.
Nickole and Brita are continuing the momentum from Stantec’s day of volunteer work.
“We’re scheduling career day and mentoring presentations to the AIHFS Dream Seekers youth groups to talk about science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) opportunities, including engineering, architecture, interior design, graphic design, and marketing,” Brita says. “It’s a good opportunity to let students know more about career possibilities and employment pathways.”