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Meet The Game Changers: Karen Bruno, the Manager of Community Engagement and Indigenous Relations

Posted: Apr 11, 2022

On the EndPoverty Edmonton blog we're sitting down with Karen Bruno, the Manager of Community Engagement and Indigenous Relations at EndPoverty Edmonton. Karen is Cree from the Maskwacis Band, and has been a longtime manager for social services within the inner city.

Image: Katch Studios

Karen is also the former co-chair of the EndPoverty Edmonton Indigenous Circle (IC), which is a fluid and open membership table inclusive of all Indigenous peoples and communities. It includes Elders, knowledge keepers and cultural resource people and encourages the participation of Indigenous youth and those who have seen poverty.

The Indigenous Circle grounds itself in Indigenous ways of knowing and advises, informs and influences the work of EndPoverty Edmonton. The work of the circle upholds the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Here's our chat with Karen Bruno.


Karen tell us what your job at EndPoverty Edmonton entails?

My job is to connect with the Indigenous community, businesses, bands and ensure that they have a voice in the system change activities we do at EndPoverty Edmonton. It's my job to Indigenize the work of EndPoverty Edmonton and to help the Indigenous community reclaim that voice.

What do you love most about what you do?

What I love most about what I do is the autonomy to work with people and to see their voices expand and be heard. Giving them the opportunity to have that voice, I think is one of the most exciting parts to me, because the voices of our Indigenous community have been quiet for so long, but our voices are getting louder and clearer. So that is very exciting to see.

What is it you hope to achieve in your work?

I hope to educate people on our Indigenous ways of being through the voices of our people. And by doing that, being able to see some changes that are really valuable and can really impact on how we flourish as Indigenous people in the City of Edmonton. When it comes to ending poverty, it's about acknowledging that the Indigenous community's voices need to be heard and that systems need to be changed and by collaborating with all levels of government and all people of all walks of life, we can accomplish that.

What is just one of the things you're working on that excites you?

I am excited to be working on the building and creation of the Indigenous Culture and Wellness Centre project. This centre would be a community cultural centre benefiting all Indigenous people, as well as, non-Indigenous people who wish to learn more about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. It will be a place to come together to connect mind, body and spirit. Currently when we're trying to find a large space for ceremonies and events, like our most recent Round Dance, it is incredibly difficult. Having the ICWC will mean the Indigenous community will have a permanent ceremonial space where traditional and contemporary Indigenous cultural activities and practices can take place.

EndPoverty Edmonton has made great strides in building on the good work done by the Indigenous community and the City of Edmonton, by keeping their ear to the ground, by seeing and then helping to realize opportunity. Working with EndPovertyEdmonton and the Indigenous community in this way makes me feel like I'm a part of something that's different, that has a real chance to make a big difference for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people living in poverty.”

You also work on Economic Reconciliation in your role at EndPoverty Edmonton. Can you explain what economic reconciliation is?

Yes, So my role there is to engage with Indigenous workforce development, Indigenous employers, employees, and ensure that they have a voice and are part of economic reconciliation. Which means that we're working to ensure everyone can equally participate in the economy. So it's been a long time since Indigenous people have been fully part of the economy. When we first welcomed people to this land, there were natural resources that were shared, and it was part of our treaties to be equal in all that the land had to offer. As things developed and the non-Indigenous voice got louder, the sharing part got smaller. So it's important now to honour those original treaties, to become a part of society in an equal way, so that we can also benefit from the resources and the economics of business so Indigenous people can be self determinant.

It was interesting, the other day I was listening to three different Chiefs talk about economic struggles and one of the Chiefs who owns a casino, said, “We don't really have a lot of struggle because we've created our own economy, so we don't even have to bother with that anymore.” That is a really good simple example of what economic reconciliation looks like.

Depending less on a system and being independent. Having Indigenous people fully involved in the economy and business, means less dependence and being self-determinate in who we are and how we live and participate.

What are some of the barriers Indigenous businesses face?

Indigenous people do business very differently. It's based on hand shakes and relationship building - whereas the non-Indigenous community is very contract and legal based. Workforce policies are also very colonized and don't recognize different skills and creativity and they value education over experience. To go to school or to start a business, the paperwork is always twice as thick as a non-Indigenous person. We constantly jump through hoops - whether you're Urban status Indian or Rural status Indian - or is it Federal or municipal? Where is the funding coming from? There are just so many systems to what we do. We're almost set up for failure. In the meantime, we're just trying to provide for our families like everyone else.

I also think non-Indigenous businesses could also benefit from doing business the way we do. We don't think of the small picture, we think of the big picture. In everything we do, we think how this will benefit the next seven generations, we think about the land, we think about mental health and always consider the health of our employees. We incorporate the Indigenous ways of thinking and I think all businesses would benefit from that expanded way of thinking.

We want to thank Karen Bruno for sharing her insight into her work at EndPoverty Edmonton. The Indigenous Circle has developed an Economic Reconciliation framework to guide EndPoverty Edmonton's work going forward to bring about Economic Reconciliation and is currently building a business case for the Indigenous Culture and Wellness Centre project, which goes before City Council on August 8th for further development of a potential site.

Stay tuned to the EndPoverty Edmonton blog for updates on the Indigenous Cultural Wellness Centre or visit the website

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