Siloam Mission's new leader has a long history of Christian and Indigenous relations reconciliation work. 

The ministry is announcing that Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud will be their new CEO, starting in this role on November 15. Blaikie Whitecloud is coming from 1JustCity where she served as their Executive Director. Blaikie has previously worked at places such as the Canadian Mental Health Association and United Way.

“I am truly excited to be coming on board at Siloam and to begin doing this important work. It is a place where I can bring my full depth of experience with social justice and leadership, and know that I am doing God’s work every day,” Blaikie Whitecloud says in a statement.

Garth Manness, Siloam's board chair, says Blaikie Whitecloud brings "a real passion and deep knowledge of our community," saying he is excited to work with her.

Blaikie Whitecloud comes from a United Church background, with Transcona Memorial United Church being her home congregation. She spent her life in the church, including playing hide and go seek in the church buildings and delivering Christmas hampers with her father, a United Church minister and former MLA Bill Blaikie. As she got older Blaikie Whitecloud took a school mission trip to Bolivia, inspiring her to take to the pulpit at 17-years-old. She continues to share her love of the Lord in her social justice work.

“God’s love is a foundation from which I understand my own worthiness and lovability, and apply that, as He does, to all I encounter.”

Blaikie Whitecloud has a Master of Arts in Political Economy. This included work with a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Grassy Narrows First Nation regarding solidarity with Indigenous people.

She is married to filmmaker and activist Hanwakan Blaikie Whitecloud.


Indigenous relations

Along with this appointment comes change at Siloam. In February, Siloam announced the departure of long-time CEO Jim Bell following 2020 allegations of blocking Indigenous programming and activities. More than half of Siloam's clients are Indigenous.

Since then, Siloam has conducted a report of its Indigenous spiritual and cultural care, saying their Board of Directors were concerned about these allegations. Crystal Laborero, a Sapotaweyak Cree Nation band member, conducted the report. Laborero has previously worked with organizations such as United Way and currently is on the board for End Homelessness Winnipeg.

During the report, she heard from Indigenous leaders that people experiencing homelessness were concerned they would have Christianity forced on them and avoided the shelter because of these concerns. Indigenous people have long been subject to forced religion, most notably at residential schools.

"This is problematic when dealing with a community that has trauma stemmed from colonization and the inter-generational impacts of residential schools," the report says.

There were no complaints from Indigenous patrons that Christianity was being forced on them. Patrons did, however, say there is a lack of opportunities for Indigenous practices and activities.

Indigenous staff said they did not feel discriminated against, but some said they felt they were being left out of conversations relating directly to them and the people they serve.

"Many hope Siloam is successful and does the true, authentic, and genuine workaround reorganizing itself to be a community leader, grounded in Indigenous ways of being and doing, ensuring there are no anti-oppressive practices and lead by the community needs."

Indigenous leaders said they would like knowledge keepers at Siloam to help build partnerships. They are recommending more Indigenous representation, both on their board and in staff.

The key recommendations coming out of the report are:

  • Hiring an Indigenous Relations Director to join the Executive team
  • Looking for Indigenous representation on our Board of Directors
  • Recruiting and developing retention strategies for Indigenous staff within all levels of the organization
  • Launching Indigenous education programs for both the Board and the staff
  • Ensuring Indigenous community members have access to culturally relevant programs
  • Developing stronger partnerships and relationships within the poverty and homelessness sector
  • Fulfilling commitments made as part of Winnipeg’s Indigenous Accord and as part of our commitment to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action

Siloam says they will be implementing these recommendations soon if they have not done so already.