Angie brought passion while Morgan Vespa brought the funding know-how, making this a dynamic match
“For me, personally, the sweat lodge is important. That’s where I do my healing”
Angie Giesbrecht is a Cree, Anishinaabe, and Metis woman from Winnipeg with ancestors from God’s Lake Narrows, Dauphin River, and St. Peter’s Manitoba. Growing up Angie wasn’t exposed to traditional cultural activities. It took her until she was a young adult to begin participating in traditional ceremonies, and once she did, she said, “[I] felt like I had found my true place in the world.” One of those ceremonies that contributed to that feeling was a sweat. Housed inside a sweat lodge, a “heated dome-shaped structure”, a sweat is the “main ceremony for our people to heal, pray, and to connect,” explained Angie.
Tucked behind the main building sits the Thunderbird House Sweat Lodge. Image: Thunderbird House
Angie used the sweat to heal and she knew she wasn’t alone. Others needed this space and ceremony as well. So she took her passion and drive “to get programming like this that people need” and joined the board of Thunderbird House, a nonprofit whose mission is to “to provide a loving environment where Indigenous teachings and ceremonies can be shared for the healing of all our relations.”
Thunderbird House provides a loving environment for the healing of all. Image: Thunderbird House
It was a perfect fit … and a challenge.
Thunderbird House already had the sweat lodge structure, tucked behind the main building, but it was sitting there unused. The cost of equipment, maintenance, firewood, and insurance to run the sweats created a formidable challenge. They needed money. Angie knew where the money was- that part was easy- it was at her job. Her union offers a social justice fund, a grant pool that employees can submit project proposals to. “I’ve always wanted to use this grant for something important,” Angie said, “and to me the sweat lodge and healing for people is so important.” The only problem was that Angie had never written a grant proposal before. That’s where Spark came in. Angie attended our Tell Us What Hurts event- a lunchtime presentation followed by organizational speed assessments (imagine speed dating in the 1990’s). She shared her challenge with us and we immediately got to work finding her the perfect Spark volunteer. We reached out to Morgan Vespa, a former nonprofit worker with an extensive background in writing funding proposals. Morgan understood the importance of the project and quickly agreed to help. On an extremely cold winter afternoon we brought Morgan and Angie together for an introductory meeting at a coffee shop in the Exchange. The hubbub of customers and the hiss of the coffee machines didn’t distract the pair at all. They immediately got to work. Angie brought the passion and understanding while Morgan brought the writing skill and know how, expertly putting into words the values that Angie and Thunderbird House uphold. Spark’s role was to keep the momentum of the work going and navigate through any potential snags.
And there were snags.
Funding over three sweats a month for an entire year requires a lot of money and when Angie looked at past project she “didn’t see any values that high in the programs they were approving so I was getting scared that they weren’t going to approve [us].” Despite the nerves a budget was finalized and the application was submitted Angie waited. A couple of months later she got some feedback. The grant committee was interested but wanted clarification on some details, specifically the budget. Angie’s nerves came back. Morgan and Angie met again at the same coffee shop, with the same intensity as before. Another draft was written, the budget was adjusted and the application was resent. Again, Angie waited. Winnipeg started to thaw and soon it was spring when one day Angie opened her email and saw an acceptance letter waiting for her. The granting committee had approved her proposal to fund the Thunderbird House Sweat Lodge program for one year.
“The impact is huge.”
Angie immediately sent Morgan and I an excited email filled with lots of happy face emojis. Thunderbird House was getting $17,000.00 to fund their sweat lodge. $17,000.00. It’s significant. According to Angie, “we had nothing and this is $17,000 that is coming to Thunderbird House for running programs. The impact is huge.” $17,000.00. The impact, to give you a visual, means that over 900 people, enough people to fill the Pan Am Pool, can now access sweats at Thunderbird House. 900 people can access ceremony to help them heal, just like Angie.
Angie says that the ceremony is open to all who need it.
She wants everyone to “come without worrying about bringing anything. Just come. Come with your prayers, come with your questions, come to talk to the Elders, just come.” Thunderbird House went from nothing to being able to fund a vital program. That’s a giant step forward, and now Angie and the board are working on the next step. The grant doesn’t cover honorariums for all the volunteers who run the sweat. So while Angie is already rolling up her sleeves for the next step, she’s also taking time to celebrate celebrating because “we weren’t able to offer [swe