A First Nation outreach organization called ‘Turtle Team‘ is asking the federal government to continue funding its operations.

Since early 2021, the Turtle Team has provided culturally-grounded and essential wraparound supports for First Nations peoples who have been evacuated to Winnipeg due to COVID-19, or other natural disasters.

The organization says it looks to serve evacuees and First Nations peoples experiencing homelessness holistically, including physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

“It’s a sad day for me, and I’m disappointed we have no funding,” said Black River First Nation Chief Sheldon Kent, who also serves as chair of the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba (FNHSSM) board.

He said the Turtle Team offers an essential, culturally-appropriate service for First Nations people.

“The Red Cross doesn’t know our people like the Turtle Team. The Turtle Team (knows) our people when they come into the city, because they come from there, and they can relate to the cultural shock that you’re going to receive when you come,” he said.

Pine Creek First Nation Chief Derek Nepinak, another chair on the FNHSSM board, said because of this understanding, the team helps smooth this transition.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world
sent to your email, as it happens.

“It’s not long ago that our families started coming back to these urban centres, and what sprung up around us was this idea of Western urban culture. In our dispossession, we still continue to experience culture shock,” he said.

“When we come into these environments we struggle with all these buildings in the cement.”

The Turtle Team is asking Ottawa to fund just over $2 million to cover their operating expenditures.

“We’ve been advocating with the government that we need funds to continue the spirit work that this team has been doing over the last few years,” Kent said.

If the Turtle Team does not receive funding, it will have to lay off 42 members of the team and cease the majority of their operations.

“They’re certified in what they do. They’ve got food-handling certificates, CPR certificates; they’ve got all the skills that are needed and required to provide all the services they do,” Kent said.

More than being qualified, Pine Creek First Nation Chief Derek Nepinak said their services are essential, and will only be more needed as time goes on.

“The reason why this is important is because these issues are going to continue. And not only are they going to continue, but they’re going to accelerate in an era of climate change. We’re talking about flooding, we’re talking about future forest fires,” he said.

“Why not continue it?” he asked.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said she doesn’t believe the Turtle Team makes that big a dent in federal finances to continue funding.

“They spend millions and millions of dollars for our people to come out of (their) communities to come to (the city),” she said. “Today, the proposal that was submitted is not tens of millions of dollars.”

Global News has reached out to the federal government for response, but has not heard back yet.

Even so, she said she hopes the Turtle Team is seen as worth the cash.

“When we talk about reconciliation, it comes with a price. It comes with a price tag because it was never there,” she said.

— with files from Global’s Drew Stremick

Click to play video: '‘Everybody is safe’: Manitobans await news after wildfire threat leads to evacuation of town'