Friendship Centres across Canada are facing a “dire crisis” due to the delay of federal funding, says the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.
The organization says uncertainty of Urban Aboriginal Strategy (UAS) funding from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) means many of the 25 friendship centres in B.C. will need to end critical services for indigenous families. Some may need to shut down in the next two months.
The Wachiay Friendship Centre in Courtenay will continue to offer 40-plus programs to the community. That said, funding delays will adversely affect one program, and cause problems with utility bill payments. Michael Colclough, executive director at Wachiay, is even prepared to forfeit his salary.
“We’ll make it but there will be some losses, like my salary,” Colclough said.
Federal core funding amounts to $120,000 per year — 10 per cent of Wachiay’s budget — which helps pay the rent, the executive director salary and some administrative costs. The money is not guaranteed each year.
In a statement, INAC says this year’s federal budget confirms continued funding for the UAS ($51 million a year), and outlines government’s “commitment to work in partnership to strengthen the strategy so it works for all urban indigenous peoples.”
However, the BCAAFC claims government officials are “unilaterally and without consultation, changing key elements of the national program after two years of successful delivery by friendship centres.”
It notes the former Conservative government of Canada eliminated the Aboriginal Friendship Centre Program, which provided core capacity funding friendship centres had received for over 40 years. In its place, the UAS was created with two new programs: Urban Partnerships (UP) and Community Capacity Support (CCS).
Colclough had told former Vancouver Island North Conservative MP John Duncan that he “hammered the nail in the coffin” when friendship centres were transferred from Service Canada to INAC.
“Putting all First Nations and then friendship centres under the same department in the federal government just creates a combative environment,” Colclough said. “It would have been nice if we just left it in Service Canada. We’d have our money by now…They make it difficult for us to access the funds that basically have been promised under a five-year agreement by the previous government.
“I don’t understand how our new prime minister (Justin Trudeau) is letting this happen when he made so many promises to sustain friendship centres and to work with the urban aboriginal population in Canada,” Colclough added. “No sooner is he in than it just changes back to historical, parochial dealings with us.”
North Island-Powell River NDP MP Rachel Blaney is aware of the uncertainty and frustration under which friendship centres are living.
“There was a commitment during the election for a nation-to-nation approach, understanding that we were in a path where the truth and reconciliation process had happened,” Blaney said.
“What we’re hearing, from this particular perspective, is that now we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. There are services that are required. There is a long-term relationship built in the communities through the individual friendship centres. It would be awful to lose it because of the federal government not following through with their commitment around some funding.”
Blaney credits the Liberals for investing into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, and for funding infrastructure in aboriginal communities. But across Canada, she notes a “long-standing disparity for aboriginal people.”