Aboriginal friendship centres in B.C. and across Canada are facing a dire crisis, according to a press release issued by the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.
The release states an ongoing delay and uncertainty of the Urban Aboriginal Strategy (UAS) funding from the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is causing “financial hardship” for member centres.
The B.C. association represents 25 friendship centres across the province, including the Mission centre located on First Avenue.
The press release went on to state that without Community Capacity Support program funding, “Friendship Centres in B.C. will be forced to end critical services for indigenous families and many may need to close their doors completely in the next two months.”
There was no indication of which of the 25 friendship centres may have to shut down or what programs could be cut.
Grace Cunningham, executive director of the Mission Friendship Centre, said local programs should not be impacted.
“Our programs are funded by various partners. These programs are not in jeopardy of funding loss.”
Cunningham added that the core funding distribution for friendship centres across Canada is significantly delayed.
“It is my understanding that ongoing negotiations are being held in hopes of rectifying this situation.”
The Mission centre serves approximately 2,000 people per month.
“We provide services to anyone who comes through our doors. However, the majority reside within the Fraser Valley region,” said Cunningham.
That includes Mission, Maple Ridge, Abbotsford and beyond.
In B.C., friendship centres are the largest network of social service organizations supporting the critical needs of urban indigenous people and they hold key partnerships in every community.
In February 2014, the Aboriginal Friendship Centre Program’s core capacity funding was eliminated and replaced by the UAS and two new programs called Urban Partnerships (UP) and Community Capacity Support (CCS)
According to the release, in November 2015, “department officials started double administering approved UP projects, claiming ineligibility and withholding key funding.”
After negotiations went on, the federal minister intervened and funding was immediately released for projects that were “now stressed as a result of the delays.”
The association says it is now in a similar situation.
“It is our belief that INAC is breaching the agreed-upon terms and conditions and these proposed changes will have immediate negative impacts on our agencies’ capacity to deliver essential services.”
An email sent to the Record by an INAC spokesperson stated:
“Ensuring effective programs and services are in place to meet the needs of urban indigenous peoples is critical.
“The Department is ready to flow funds. We can do so after we receive the National Association of Friendship Centres’ 2016-17 work plan and the contribution agreement is finalized. We also strongly encourage the National Association of Friendship Centres to proceed with a call for proposals for program funding to ensure recipients can undertake their work as soon as possible.
“Budget 2016 confirms continuation of funding for the Urban Aboriginal Strategy (UAS), and also outlines our government’s commitment to work in partnership to strengthen the strategy so it works for all urban indigenous peoples.”
Despite the funding delay, Cunningham said she is optimistic.
“I am disappointed that we are in this position after the promises of reconciliation. However, I have faith in the ability of our federal and provincial associations to advocate, and promote the good work of the friendship centre movement across our country.”