The Omamoo Wango Gamik program developed by Niginan Housing Ventures (NHV) in Edmonton, AB, is an Indigenous-led registered charity that serves those with complex medical, social and housing needs, was recently selected as one of the winners of the third annual Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Prevention Awards. 

We spoke with Keri Cardinal, CEO of NHV and Melissa Keith, Team Lead of Omamoo Wango Gamik, to learn more about the initiative, why it was designed, how it fills the gaps in preventing youth homelessness, and much more. 

About the initiative

The Omamoo Wango Gamik program was established in the Fall of 2020. It is a 42-unit, Indigenous-led housing initiative that was developed with the goal of family reunification. This program, and the building that houses it, aims to bring families together and create a sense of community for residents who have absent family members.

“They come and live here and they're provided with a safe, secure, loving family and a building that cares about each other. A building that innately creates safety and love just through being the kind of building we are. ...” - Melissa Keith, Team Lead of Omamoo Wango Gamik

This multi-generational housing facility provides wrap-around supports for Indigenous youth formerly in foster care and young parents whose children are at risk of being apprehended by Child and Family Services (CFS). As part of this program, Indigenous Elders live alongside the residents and help to provide culturally appropriate supports. The programming at Omamoo Wango Gamik goes beyond providing temporary shelter. It aims to prevent youth homelessness by addressing the root causes of Indigenous homelessness and keeping Indigenous youth out of the foster care system.


The former CEO of Niginan Housing Ventures, Carola Cunningham, developed Omamoo Wango Gamik as a family reunification initiative for Indigenous youth and their families. She saw that there was an over-representation of Indigenous youth in the foster care system and that there were not enough programs that focused on family reunification for them.
While many youth transitioning out of care lack the natural supports needed to successfully navigate their independence, many Indigenous youth in care have also lost connections to the spiritual, cultural, and community supports of Indigenous Peoples - all of which are very important in Indigenous culture. 

“My background came from CSD and Children's Services, where Indigenous children have for a very long time been over-represented, but what is needed and what is missing is family… that connection to family, community and land and that was not being addressed in any way. Children were being coming out of 18 years in foster care and not knowing what a family is, and that's very important in Indigenous culture” - Melissa Keith, Team Lead of Omamoo Wango Gamik

 Benefits of Partnership and Collaboration

Partnerships and collaborations are essential to the success of the Omamoo Wango Gamik program. As Keri stated, “Partnerships [and] collaborations are just so essential to what we do, you know, as Indigenous Peoples in Edmonton, we rely on those partnerships in order to be successful and thankfully, we have been just so gifted with a number of great people that we get to work with all the time.”

To ensure that the youth and families they serve are properly supported, Niginan Housing Ventures relies upon various partnerships to operate the Omamoo Wango Gamik program. Some of these partners include: 

  • Alberta Health Services 
  • PDD Services
  • Homeward Trust
  • Red Road Healing Society
  • Right at Home Housing Society

Lessons Learned

One of the key lessons that Niginan Housing Ventures wanted to share was the importance of “leading with love”. To NHV, leading with love means accepting people where they are at and offering support to them regardless of their situation.

“Having expectations of people being somewhere else is never going to work with this type of environment or in this type of programming. So, leading with love is number one.”  - Keri Cardinal, CEO of Niginan Housing Ventures

Finally, they emphasized the importance of sticking to your organization's core values when approaching prevention work and using these values to ground the decisions you make. NHV operates on the four natural laws: honesty, sharing, kindness and strength. These are the principles that guide their approach.

“In everything we do we ask ourselves, are we being kind? Are we being honest? Are we sharing  Are we showing our strengths? We are always using those for natural laws.” - Keri Cardinal, CEO of Niginan Housing Ventures

Keri added to this idea by stating, “If you're able to use Indigenous culture as your model or your center then you're going to be a lot more successful with Indigenous Peoples. That's just reality.”

Community Impact of Initiative:

Melissa shared several stories during the interview that highlighted the impact of the Omamoo Wango Gamik program on the community. 

The first story was about a single mother who made use of the Omamoo Wango Gamik program after being discharged from the Edmonton Institution for Women (EIFW). The mother had struggled with a substance use disorder and in the past, she had a daughter who had been apprehended by Child and Family Services (CFS). At the time she was discharged from EIFW, she was pregnant with another baby. Given her circumstances, ordinarily, she would have been within the CFS system and her baby likely would have been apprehended soon after birth. However, thanks to the support of the Omamoo Wango Gamik program, she gave birth to her second child earlier this year and her child was able to remain in her care without CFS involvement. By making use of the services and supports offered through Omamoo Wango Gamik, she was also able to reunite with her daughter. She is now on a pathway to well-being and living with both of her children at Omamoo Wango Gamik.

Another story that Melissa shared was: “We have residents in the building that have come from other sites…and they've stabilized to the point they're ready to live independently.”  Melissa went on to state that, “there are stories where the children are successful, and the families are successful and you see it on their faces and that's how I judge success…”

About the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Prevention Awards

This year marked the third annual Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Prevention Awards Program. The Awards are presented by Canada Life and co-led by A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. They were created to celebrate the important work happening to prevent youth homelessness in Canada. 

Note: This blog post is part of a blog series highlighting the winners of the MtS Youth Prevention Award Winners. To learn about the other award winner for 2023, read our blog here.