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Ka Ni Kanichihk: Leading the Way for Indigenous Wellness

Posted September 30, 2022 in Bell Let's Talk, English by 0

September 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day, honouring the lost children and survivors of residential schools and supporting their families and communities. Observing the day is an important part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action and an ongoing commitment to uplift Indigenous communities from coast to coast to coast.

In honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we’re highlighting the incredible contributions of Ka Ni Kanichihk, a Bell Let’s Talk Diversity Fund partner that supports the mental health and wellbeing of Winnipeg’s Indigenous community. We interviewed Leesha Sankar, Director of Programs and Services at Ka Ni Kanichihk to learn more about their impactful work.

Tell us about Ka Ni Kanichihk’s work in the community.

Ka Ni Kanichihk means “Those Who Lead” and is an Indigenous-led Centre in Winnipeg’s core, with a mandate to provide Indigenous-identified programs and services that focus on wholeness and wellness and build on the strengths and resilience of Indigenous peoples. Ka Ni Kanichihk is home to a number of front-line programs that support individual and collective growth and development in adult education, youth job readiness and skills development, mentorship programming, and wellness support services. Within a culturally safe environment, our programming helps Indigenous people on their path to being healthy, happy, respected, and included in our community both socially and economically. 

Programming encompasses adult education and leadership development for Indigenous women and girls, strengthening families, youth job readiness and skills training, child/youth mentorship, guiding trauma recovery, a 24/7 Safe Space, and building cultural awareness, connection, and healthy identity. Our programs are embedded in cultural learning as a basis for prevention and in supporting lasting change.

Can you tell us about the impact of the Elder Care Project?

Providing culturally relevant supports to participants is fundamental in building community and promoting health and wellness. A sense of cultural identity is important when discussing a holistic approach to supporting Indigenous people. Through our Bell Let’s Talk Diversity Fund grant, Ka Ni Kanichihk has been able to ensure participants feel a sense of connection to their identity. We have been able to provide access to Elder supports to our participants and encourage healing to begin taking place. Through access to Elders, we can begin to see positive lifestyle changes towards healthier communities for those we support and for those future generations to come.

What is traditionally-based cultural mental wellness?

Traditionally-based cultural mental wellness means creating space where participants can simply, just be. A space for participants to walk in balance with Indigenous values and knowledge. Through traditionally-based wellness, participants are able to learn new cultural skills, strategies, and tools for better overall mental health and wellness. It’s accessing and using traditional medicines such as smudging, and traditional ways such as cedar baths to cleanse oneself from any negativity around them. It provides space for a sense of community, belonging, generosity and mastery and providing tools for folks to keep their own home fires burning and carry on those cultural teachings of wellness and health.

How has the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation impacted your community?

The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation confirmed what many Indigenous folks knew and have experienced throughout their lives, this day created space for folks to share and reflect on their experiences as Indigenous peoples. Elders have varied feelings based on their individual experiences, but many are glad there is national acknowledgment of historical harms of Indigenous people but there is a lot more work that needs to be done around working through trauma and healing at the community level.

What does National Day for Truth and Reconciliation mean to you and how can other non-Indigenous people support truth and reconciliation?

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation has not only helped to raise awareness and increase knowledge of the devastating impacts of colonization and residential schools, but has also created space for those impacted to take time to remember, reflect and honor those stories and experiences of our Indigenous relatives.  Settler relatives need to look at what they can do to further educate themselves and apply their learning by asking how they can use it in their everyday lives, what steps can be taken to amplify marginalized voices, and how to use their position and privileges to listen, shift power dynamics and take steps toward action. Some examples are hiring Indigenous people to be involved in initiatives that involve them and proper remunerating and crediting Indigenous people for their knowledge and time.

To learn more about Ka Ni Kanichik watch the video below or visit

Former residential school survivors can call 1-866-925-4419 for emotional crisis referral services and information on other health supports from the Government of Canada.

Indigenous peoples across Canada can access the Hope for Wellness Help Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for counselling and crisis intervention. Call the toll-free Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or connect to the online chat at:

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