Plans are underway to revitalize Thunderbird House and surrounding areas in Winnipeg

It’s a sacred and spiritual place located on the corner of Higgins and Main, but the Circle of Life Thunderbird House is in dire need of repairs.

“When you look at it from the outside, it’s in a state of disrepair,” said Damon Johnston, president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg and chairman of the board tasked with repairing the facility.

“The country has been under considerable stress from people who are on the streets.”

Thunderbird House opened its doors approximately 23 years ago as a spiritual place for Indigenous ceremonies, gatherings, traditions and healing. The roof is designed to resemble an eagle spreading its wings.

Damon Johnston reviews conceptual plans for the Thunderbird House renovations.

Marney Blunt / PKBNEWS

“When Thunderbird House was in its heyday, non-Native Canadians would come here in fairly large numbers, mix with us, learn with us and enjoy a lot of the things we shared with them,” Johnston said.

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“And for me, that’s real truth and reconciliation.”

Although programs are still held at the facility, including traditional drumming, beading, and health services, the facility is physically in disrepair. During the pandemic, Johnston says, people have broken into the building, broken windows, written graffiti on the walls and even stolen copper from the roof. As a result, they were forced to close the windows and erect a chain-link fence around the establishment.

The exterior of Thunderbird House is in dire need of repairs after being vandalized during the pandemic.

Marney Blunt / PKBNEWS

But plans are now underway to restore the facility. David Morrison, executive director of Thunderbird House, says nearly $3 million in funding from Indigenous Services Canada will allow them to restore and repair the facility, which he says is also damaged internally by break-ins.

“It’s people’s wish that this place come back to life. (Or) for the bird to fly – the fence we’re going to put around it, we’re going to make it look like a nest around the bird,” Nepinak explained. “So that the bird flies and people feel comfortable coming here at any time.”

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Funding will also be used to build a sweat lodge outside the facility and a green space, complementing recent additions of new public restrooms in the area and housing for people exiting homelessness .

The board also hopes that the Sabe Peacewalkers will patrol the area, to provide support to the community and protect the facilities and people in the area.

Rylee Nepinak is the co-founder of Anishiative and works with the board of Thunderbird House, and is also the co-founder of the Sabe Peacewalkers. He says repairing the facilities is crucial.

Marney Blunt / PKBNEWS

Rylee Nepinak is the co-founder of Anishiative and works with the board of Thunderbird House, and is also the co-founder of the Sabe Peacewalkers. He says repairing the facilities is crucial.

“Coming from me, someone who grew up down the street on the other side of the train tracks, for me it’s running and it’s very important to get back to your original spirit,” said Nepinak to PKBNEWS.

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“This place is like a grandmother, that’s how I see it. And we have to take care of her because, like our grandmothers, they take care of us.

The goal is to complete the renovations by 2025.

“It’s on sacred ground, it’s a sacred place, and it’s starting to breathe again,” Morrison said.

“The patient received oxygen and I am very happy.”

Although funding is in place for physical repairs to the building, Thunderbird House currently has no operating funding, something the board is trying to defend.

“You can put all the bricks and mortar into it and make it the most beautiful place, but you need people with good hearts inside to make a difference, to spread that love, and I think we’re ready to do it,” Nepinak said.

“We are not a church, no collections are made here. We don’t sell a service,” Morrison said.

“So whatever needs to happen needs to be asked for. So I ask. Please help us.”

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