Mikinakoos Children’s Fund is a charity working to support First Nations children in remote regions of Northern Ontario. Here, Executive Director Emily Shandruk, shares the most surprising thing she’s learned on the job and challenges with misinformation that exists around First Nations communities.
Q: First, can you tell us a bit about Mikinakoos Children’s Fund and what you do?
Mikinakoos Children’s Fund is a charity addressing inequalities experienced by First Nations children residing in remote, Northwestern Ontario First Nations communities. At Mikinakoos, we work diligently and directly with key community members to support with filling gaps around food insecurity, warm winter gear, sports and art supplies, and other essential items that most Canadian children never have to consider.
Our vision is a world where every First Nations child is lifted from poverty and lives the good life described by First Nations teachings. In simpler terms, we want every First Nations child to be allowed to be a kid. Our goal is that they don’t have to worry about where lunch comes from or whether they have a coat to play outside.
When kids get just to be kids, that’s where the magic happens.
As Executive Director, I have the privilege to share this information with as many Canadians as possible and help them understand how a gift to our organization can make a significant, positive difference in the lives of our youth. When we put #FirstNationsKidsFirst, we are not just wearing an orange shirt on September 30th, but proactively ensuring that every day we make the future stronger for generations to come and ensure that as a country, we are better for it.
Q: You recently shared a wonderful story about receiving a large donation as a direct result of a news story about the charity. Why is it important for people to continue seeing stories about organizations that work specifically with Indigenous communities in the mainstream media?
Just over a year ago, we learned about the first 215 children discovered in Kamloops. That number continues to grow, but media coverage has slowed and, in many cases, stopped altogether. Unfortunately, there are additional tragedies taking place; however, the pressing need to remember the children impacted still exists. Every day, we must work to make life not just equitable but significantly better for Indigenous children.
As Canadians, our ability to help varies. Some can volunteer their time to organizations, while others prefer to support monetarily and in-kind by donating to charities like Mikinakoos to ensure they contribute to a positive path forward. Actions guided by Truth and Reconciliation take many forms.
Q: What do you wish more people knew about the First Nations people and communities you work with?
I wish they knew how unique every community is. Through my work, I have the great honour of getting to know many in our region and I am educated every day on how traditions are distinctive. The beauty of how this transcends everyday lives, culture and interactions is something that I wish more people took the time to learn about.
The more I’ve been a part of this, the more I see the racism First Nations Peoples face. I wish more people would invest time and effort in learning about the history of colonization, its impact on Canadian‘s perceptions of First Nations Peoples, and how this puts us, the settlers, at a disadvantage. If unable to see beyond misinformation, you will be stuck in the past. The future will not tolerate that for much longer.
Q: What’s been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced since starting with the charity?
Since my involvement with Mikinakoos, my biggest hurdle has been challenging the misinformation that still exists around First Nations Peoples. As a white settler, I am still working every day on dismantling inherent colonial ideas rooted in poorly written history books read in my childhood.
When starting this work, I wasn’t ready for the hateful comments and blatant racism that spread through social media, targeting our charity. For goodness’ sake, we are a non-profit creating more opportunities for kids! The comments have crossed many lines and led us to reflect on how we share information about the work of Mikinakoos, and how we market ourselves. Seeing others step up and call people out for their wrongdoings makes this more bearable.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
My best days are when I open my email and have a note from a community leader, teacher or community member sharing how our work has benefitted kids. I am not looking for thanks, but when they send a photo of kids playing baseball, cooking with ingredients we sent or taking part in land-based activities because of winter coats Mikinakoos helped provide, that is beyond rewarding. To know the work we do has meaning for thousands of children. Nothing is better.
Media Profile is proud to work with Mikinakoos Children’s Fund and tell their story. To donate, please visit www.mikinakoos.com, and please consider sharing this story on social media to help spread the word.
Mikinakoos Children’s Fund