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What is Ve’ahavta’s Jewish and Aboriginal Initiative?

Ve’ahavta’s Jewish Aboriginal Initiative is a commitment to seek out opportunities for partnership and collaboration alongside Aboriginal (First Nations, Inuit and Metis) communities in Canada, with a special focus on initiatives related to health and education. Ve’ahavta is currently engaged in consultation with a variety of stakeholders (NGOs, federal and provincial government ministries, Aboriginal communities) to identify opportunities for the development of joint initiatives to support Aboriginal communities in Ontario and throughout Canada.

What is the Briut Program?

The Briut Program is Ve’ahavta’s first Jewish-Aboriginal Program. The Briut Program (Briut means ‘health’ or ‘wellness’ in Hebrew) is a health promotion program which is funded through the generosity of the Ontario Trillium Foundation and run in partnership with the Kenora Chiefs Advisory in Northwest Ontario.

The Briut Program places public health professionals within Aboriginal communities for the purpose of supporting community based health promotion programming. This is a capacity building program with an emphasis on a community-led approach.

The Briut Program honorary co-chairs are former Prime Minister Paul Martin, Larry Tanenbaum, and former Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine.

Our distinguished volunteer Advisory Committee provides guidance and oversight to the Briut Program.

Who is eligible for the Briut Fellowship?

The Briut Fellowship is tailored to meet the needs of our partner communities. The role of each fellow is defined by the host community, therefore the specific responsibilities of the fellow change with each fellowship. However, our fellows are expected to have experience working directly with marginalized or vulnerable communities in the areas of public health or social work. Those with experience working with Aboriginal populations in either urban or rural contexts will be prioritized. Briut Fellows are highly self-motivated, creative, observant, and patient individuals with an exceptional aptitude for listening, informal education and community engagement.

Why should Jewish communities engage with Indigenous issues in Canada?

As a Canadian organization, Ve’ahavta believes that our organization can play a role in raising awareness of issues which affect Aboriginal People amongst all Canadians, as well as through the pursuit of strong partnership to support community based solutions to social disparities which impact urban and rural Aboriginal populations.

As a Jewish organization, we believe that social justice is a central tenant of Judaism. Jewish and Aboriginal communities have a lot in common. While our respective histories are unique, we believe that Aboriginal communities and Jewish communities can relate to one another’s historical narrative of persevering through adversity and cultural/religious discrimination. We believe that we can jointly support each other’s communities in sharing our historical and current narratives, and utilize the resources from our respective communities and cultures to strengthen one another. 

What is the history of the Residential School System in Canada?

For over 100 years, Aboriginal children were systematically separated from their families and communities in order to be educated in largely church-run residential schools. In these environments, Aboriginal children were forbidden to speak their language, or practice their traditional culture. School conditions were often hazardous and unsanitary, leading to the deaths of many children. School environments were also often home to sexual predators masquerading as teachers who sexually abused and violated countless children. In 2008, the Government of Canada apologized to Aboriginal survivors of the Residential School System (read the text of this apology here). The Truth and Reconciliation Commission sought to give voice to survivors and share their narratives.

Why do Aboriginal communities disproportionately experience poverty, unemployment, lower life expectancy, adverse health, incarceration, etc. in comparison to the general population?

The many challenges facing First Nations communities are rooted in complex structural, environmental, historical, and governmental issues. Poverty, housing, education and early childhood development are all social determinants that affect the health of Aboriginal people. Furthermore, colonization, migration, loss of language and culture, and a disconnection from the land all contribute to marginalization and poverty.

Expressions of racism and oppression have contributed to the political, economic, and cultural disadvantages currently facing Aboriginal communities. This is not the result of a failure to evolve, but rather the socially and economically damaging affects of colonialism. The historic oppression of Aboriginal People in Canada has manifested itself in different ways, including the Residential School System, missing and murdered Aboriginal women, the Indian Act, and race-based segregation of a population on ‘Indian reserves’. Challenges currently faced by the Aboriginal community are a direct result of poor conditions and abuses endured in the Residential School System. Racial stereotypes are entrenched in many parts of our society, in the media, government, etc. and they negatively impact the way Aboriginal people are treated in society. These experiences of harm and lack of trust leads to a mistrust in governmental services and a diminished utilization of services especially critical to health. Historical trauma also affects the mental health of Aboriginal people.

How can I learn more about Indigenous culture and history in Canada?

Indigenous culture is incredibly diverse and rich. Ve’ahavta has identified numerous web based and print resources which can offer a pathway to learning more about indigenous cultures in Canada. Click here to view the resources.