When the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure cyclists roll into Vancouver, British Columbia, today, it will mark the culmination of a 3,700-mile, nine-week journey from Savannah, Georgia. And it will be capped off by the signing on Saturday of a new Fuller Center covenant partnership, the first such in Canada.
The person who will lead the Fuller Center’s newest covenant partner, Meaghie Champion, knows a thing or two about long journeys — although her journey has been a spiritual one and one that is measured in years instead of miles.
Champion was a child of the so-called Sixties Scoop, when thousands of children of native people were abducted and given to white families. It was an escalation of the government’s decades-long effort to assimilate natives into society and wipe out native culture by putting children in “Indian Residential Schools,” where children were stripped of their culture and often abused. The Sixties Scoop took that a horrible step further by taking children away from their families forever. Champion was just 6 months old when she was taken.
She was raised in posh West Vancouver and well educated. But there was something missing — and she would finally go looking for it as a teenager.
“When I was about 15 or 16, after my parents divorced, I started looking for my family and my biological history,” Champion said. “When my son, Josh, who is now 19, was 1 year old, I found my family. I moved home to my community 18 or 19 years ago. My mother committed suicide in 1975, and I never got to meet her. But my grandfather welcomed me into the community and into his life and threw me into politics to get me involved in the community.”
For several years, she fought the system. She raised issues of transparency and accountability in the financial assistance given to First Nations and tried to foster economic growth. Then, she found herself burned out.
One of the major issues that led to her burnout was poverty housing, a prevalent problem on reservations.
“Indian reserves in Canada are like third-world conditions,” Champion said. “A lot of people don’t have access to clean drinking water. It’s really dire and pretty bad.
“There’s such a huge need for help with housing in our community for years,” she continued. “Unfortunately, on our indian reserves, because of the way laws are written, it’s very hard for people to get regular mortgages because the property of a native cannot be seized from the reserve, so most native people go through what’s called the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation, which is a government organization. And the houses that have been put up over the years by the government are really awful.”
But while Champion was nursing burnout and health issues while entering private sector work and entrepreneurship, a movement was beginning to bubble. By this past December, the “Idle No More” protest movement was launched and made waves throughout Canada. It brought to light numerous issues affecting the indigenous peoples of Canada and has drawn the support of natives and non-natives alike — including a man named Keith Hirsche.
Hirsche has a great passion for social issues and met Champion through his interest in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which addresses the wrongdoings of the Indian Residential Schools program, for which the Canadian government officially apologized in 2008. More than 150,000 children are estimated to have been forced into the schools.
And Hirsche had a connection that would ultimately connect Champion with The Fuller Center for Housing and bring it to Canada to address housing issues on the reservations of Vancouver Island.
“That is a wonderful Koinonia story because Keith Hirsche and his family were living there when I moved here in 2007,” said Kirk Lyman-Barner, who is now The Fuller Center’s Director of U.S. Field Operations. “They moved to that part of Canada, and he’s very much into social issues and became intrigued by this whole Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And he started to recognize that these folks were promised housing, and as he discovered, lots of money was not used and was misappropriated, and people were still living in squalor.”
“Keith reached out and told me about what The Fuller Center does, and he helped set it up,” said Champion, who added that Keith gave her a book about Koinonia founder Clarence Jordanthat described his vision of a "Fund for Humanity." Champion asked Hirsche if he thought it would work in Vancouver. He excitedly said he knew it would. “We’ve wanted a solution like this for a long time.”
While The Fuller Center will go a long way toward healing housing wounds for the native people living on Vancouver Island, Champion’s personal journey continues. Her journey of self-discovery will now involve helping helping her fellow indigenous people know the joy of having a simple, decent home.