After a group was created to bring down Siloam Mission's CEO Jim Bell, the organization has released a four-page response defending itself.
The group Not My Siloam was recently created by a group of former employees, and supporters of the mission.
"Siloam’s leadership, both the CEO and board, have cut pathways to healing by blocking Indigenous cultural activity and programming — despite formal commitments to Reconciliation," the group claims in social media posts. These actions have been deliberate and increasing in intensity over time. Those under the CEO’s direct management who have come forward to raise concerns have been terminated or put on leave without explanation."
The group says that it wants Bell to resign or be removed, and for the board to be reorganized, with "Mechanisms of accountability for leadership moving forward."
Siloam Mission acknowledges that they are indeed a Christian organization in its response, but says that it doesn't stand in the way of providing needed services to people at Siloam from various faith backgrounds.
"We are proud to be a Christian humanitarian organization that does not discriminate against any individuals or groups. We are motivated by our faith to help those in need. Our doors and services are open to anyone, no questions asked — as they always have been, and always will be."
In 2017, Siloam Mission signed the Winnipeg Indigenous Accord. In the report, the organization also admits it failed to provide written follow-ups to the Accord in 2019 and 2020.
"This is an oversight on our part. We are working on creating an update for 2021. However, the leadership of Siloam Mission has regularly engaged in the meetings and events related to the Accord since 2017."
One of the accusations against Siloam is that they do not have places for Indigenous spiritual practices such as smudging. "Under Jim’s leadership, Siloam’s progress towards Reconciliation has regressed. Activities (sweat lodges, smudging, blanket exercises) that were welcomed before Jim, have been cut ― staff needed to advocate for their continuance despite Jim repeatedly questioning why these things needed to be done at Siloam."
Siloam admits that there have been times when smudging has not taken place. "There have been public events where we have decided to forego smudging depending on the audience, the venue and the purpose of the event. This not only applies to smudging, but also to public prayer and other spiritual and cultural traditions. These decisions are in no way meant to diminish the significance of spiritual and cultural rituals. We do, however, use a land acknowledgement at every public event."
Siloam also says that its newest building was made with smudging in mind. "In the recently opened Buhler Centre, we made sure to build a specific room to facilitate smudging — including proper ventilation. In the event that room is being used to accommodate people waiting on their COVID-19 test results, we have been able to accommodate smudging in our Art Room."
Another point made by Not My Siloam was that there weren't any Indigenous people on the board. "It’s made up of all white people," the group says in a tweet. "The last Indigenous board member left in December 2020, after the board’s response to the complainants."
Siloam Mission writes that the people who walk in their doors for services last year, 52 per cent are Indigenous.
"At this time, there is no Indigenous representation on the committee. But the priority of the committee is to listen to Indigenous voices. To that end, in December 2020, the committee began a cultural competency evaluation," says the organization.
This evaluation will be run by the mission's Research and Evaluation Specialist.
"The evaluation will consult Knowledge Keepers, as well as Christian Elders and our frontline staff. Most importantly, the evaluation is focusing on listening to the men and women who use our services every day."
The findings will be presented to the board in early 2021, although no date is set when exactly that will be.
According to the organization, the report "will help to shape a framework for how Siloam Mission can further improve its programming to best meet the needs of our Indigenous community and work toward Reconciliation."
Once the evaluation is finished, it will be made available to their staff and the public.