Well, I’m sure you’ve all heard about a “confidential” document suggesting a phase out of federal funding for Native Friendship Centres across Canada. These proposed cutbacks would undoubtably damage the urban Aboriginal community and ability to function as a whole.
There are many arguments to properly oppose these cutbacks. For example, there would be an increased need of social services by Aboriginals. Most of these services will not be able to properly facilitate the needs of the Aboriginals living outside their communities if the cutbacks are made.
Another point worth mentioning is the loss of jobs that will occur if funding is cut, as there are about 100 core-funded Friendship Centres that would be affected. The jobs and training the Friendship Centres offer through their programs are responsible for the development of Aboriginal leaders of today and tomorrow. The future of the urban Aboriginal is in the hands of the Friendship Centre movement.
These points are fine and dandy; they get right down to business. But what is the Friendship Centre movement all about? I remember two years ago when the first cutbacks were introduced to the centres. As a result most centres were unable to keep their doors open after business hours or on weekends; the centres’ ability to be “friendly” was put to the test.
The Friendship Centre is an urban Aboriginal institution and is needed to coordinate the community spiritually and to harmonize the lives of people living away from home. Taking away the Friendship Centres would be a crippling step for our people.
From a youth perspective the cuts come as another blow to our movement. For the past few years youth have wanted to take part in the organizational and leadership processes of the Friendship Centres. We are now slowly being invited into this circle of knowledge. Being accepted as equals has been an upward struggle. It is crucial that we, as Aboriginal youth, be heard, for we are the future and consequently any amount of cuts threaten our voice.
These proposed cuts are another example of the government offering one hand out to Aboriginals and striking out with the other. It’s very obvious that the government is unaware of the potential of a fully funded Friendship Centre.
As you can see, if the proposed cutbacks are put in place they would be a step backward for us as a people. We must confront the issue by writing letters to Parliament, by speaking out, by acknowledging its existence. If we don’t rally together and save our Friendship Centres, life in the city will be less than friendly.
Jarrod Miller currently sits on the Odawa Native Friendship Centre’s board of directors in Ottawa as a youth representative. He is also a youth representative on the board of the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres.