In March, the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal (NFCM) made national headlines as its doors were about to close because the centre had lost its core funding and membership through the Regroupement des centres d’amitié autochtones du Québec (RCAAQ), the provincial branch under Canada’s Aboriginal Friendship Centre Program.

Four months, later however, the centre is still open, having found funding from other sources while a new steering committee has formed under the auspices of the RCAAQ to start to building a new community centre for Montreal’s Aboriginal population.

According to Edith Cloutier, President of the RCAAQ, it was actually a unanimous decision put out by the Board of Directors for the NFCM to terminate its membership with the provincial organization.

Cloutier told the Nation months ago that while the RCAAQ had made numerous attempts to help the NFCM meet the criteria required to receive federal funds chanelled through the provincial organization for friendship centres, the NFCM simply wouldn’t cooperate.

Instead, she said that the NFCM was adamant about staying focused on programming geared towards Montreal’s Aboriginal homeless at the cost of programming geared towards other segments of the Aboriginal population.

Since the spring, the RCAAQ has regrouped and the organization is forming a steering committee comprised of concerned members of the Aboriginal community to help rebuild.

“What the Regroupement wanted to do was clearly identify to members of the urban Aboriginal community, people who wanted to get involved in building a new community and socio-cultural centre that is Aboriginal. We had an opportunity to unite about 15 people who are from different fields and different backgrounds but who have the same interest and purpose in working with the RCAAQ in getting another friendship centre up and running,” said Cloutier.

This steering committee has since hired a new coordinator, Eric Cardinal of Cardinal Communication, to lead the creation of a new friendship centre. Cardinal will also serve, with former NFCM employee Ida LaBillois-Montour,  as one of two official spokespeople who have been selected to speak on behalf of the steering committee.

Members of the steering committee have since met with the NFCM to discuss its position and intent prior to releasing a public letter on June 6 to explain the RCAAQ’s position.

The letter, available on the RCAAQ’s website, explains the severing of ties but also goes on to explain how the RCAAQ understands the NFCM’s position to act as a frontline centre for the homeless and that the NFCM does not wish to create any breaks in the relationship between the RCAAQ and Montreal’s Aboriginal communities.

Since then the steering committee has formed a working group to create a new centre.

“This is very good because we at the Regroupement feel that it is not our role to go out and start up friendship centres. They have to be built by the community based on a community vision. And so we are now continuing to support and offering our expertise and resources to this steering committee to help set up the centre and help them get through the next steps,” said Cloutier.

Next this group and its coordinator will seek out a new location to work from until such time that they are ready to find a permanent space to house an all-new multi-service, multi-purpose friendship centre for the Montreal Aboriginal community and Aboriginals passing through Montreal from Quebec, Canada and the United States.

While summer may not be an ideal time to get a new friendship centre off the ground, Cloutier said the objective is to keep moving forward as quickly as possible so that there are plans in place for the fall.

Meanwhile, over at the NFCM, Executive Director Brett Pineau is trying to maintain business as usual now that the organization has managed to secure new funding since falling out with RCAAQ.

“We are in a position of strength, just as much as any other friendship centre from across Quebec or Canada and we are actively working to diversify our funding sources,” said Pineau.

According to Pineau, the NFCM has received ongoing and growing commitments from federal, provincial and municipal funding sources. They have recently signed agreements with the federal government for 2012-2014 to the tune of $790,750 through Human Resources Development Canada and Service Canada.

Additional funding has come from the City of Montreal, which, Pineau was happy to say, has pledged to continue its support for the organization. The provincial government has also indicated its willingness to support the centre given the frontline work that NFCM workers provide in the areas of health and social services for Montreal’s Aboriginals in need.

Despite their breakaway from the RCAAQ, Pineau insists that there will be no mandate change to the organization nor will we see any kind of divide in services between both centres.

“There is an institutional disconnect between the RCAAQ and the NFCM, however our mandate and mission is to continue to promote, develop and enhance the quality of life for the entire Montreal urban Aboriginal community.

“We are not opposed to another centre, in fact we support the concept. However, everyone has to bear in mind that the funds under the Aboriginal Friendship Centre Program (AFCP) are still under dispute in our assessment and this matter is ongoing,” said Pineau.

Pineau added that the dispute between the NFCM and the RCAAQ, which is in turn funded through the AFCP, has reached the highest levels of government. It was his opinion that the collapse of the dispute-resolution process demonstrated a structural flaw within the national network and it is the NFCM’s aim to ensure that structural changes are implemented in order to prevent this from happening to any other centre across the country.

In terms of the NFCM and the RCAAQ not seeing eye-to-eye when it comes to the role of a friendship centre, Pineau said the services offered by friendship centres are dependent upon the priorities of the funding agencies. In the case of the NFCM, their socio-cultural funding was cut a long time ago. Instead, the focus has been put on basic needs and through organizations like the Homelessness Partnering Strategy the centre will continue to prioritize Montreal’s most vulnerable Aboriginals.

Pineau said he has all sorts of plans to reach out to other segments of the Aboriginal population in the city, with awareness campaigns set up through McGill and Concordia universities as well as weekly events for families and Elders.

“Our core mandate and our mission remain unchanged. We are simply adapting to our realities which are basically dictated by our funding arrangements. We still have an all-inclusive mandate while adapting to the requirements of our funders,” said Pineau.