Kanada: Kama Steliga

Kama's work is an outstanding example of bridge-building between cultures, while at the same time protecting and promoting human dignity, human rights, and fundamental freedoms." Sarah Chandler

— Kama Steliga

Kama Steliga, born 1967 in Kenniwick, Washington State, USA, came to Canada when she was ten. She is the executive director and driving force behind The Lillooet Friendship Centre Society, an Aboriginal organization that supports individual, family, and community empowerment through culturally sensitive programs and services. Her work at Lillooet Friendship Centre has led to her advising and assisting similar operations at a provincial level.

Kama Steliga always speaks her mind and has become quite vocal in her opposition to established authorities who downplay social problems in her home town of Lillooett. For example, government officials have denied Lillooett funding for the homeless because it has a population of less than 5000. According to officials, such a small town cannot have a problem with homelessness. "Tell that to the people living under the bridge outside town," says Kama. She believes communities need a healthy mix of self-reliance and support from outside sources. Especially disappointing to her are recent cuts in the latter. "I really believe in the liberal motto 'Communities taking care of communities'," she says. "But the cuts took away our ability to do that. They were too deep, too broad, too fast, and without enough forethought. There just didn't seem to be any kind of humane strategy to deal with social health." The lack of resources especially touches Kama when she sees the direct effect on individuals. She notes that the population relying on Lillooet's food bank for meals has swelled to 300 people a month, about ten per cent of the town's population. In this small rural Canadian town devasted by a poor economy, government cutbacks, and racial tension, Kama Steliga has provided much-needed leadership and inspiration. She has organized a community to action while instilling in its citizens tolerance, compassion, and understanding for those of differing ethnicities, those suffering the seen and unseen wounds of trauma, and those suffering from HIV/AIDS. "I welcome the opportunity to empower communities and to be a part of a movement that encourages diversity and acceptance. I wanted to work here because I love the emphases on community, family, and individuals," she says.

Lillooet Friendship Centre