Native friendship centres around Quebec are looking to turn their friendly relationship with the Grand Council of the Crees (GCC) into a more formal one.

Under section 28, article 14, of the James Bay Agreement, Native friendship centres have traditionally relied on funding and assistance from the provincial and federal governments. With the signing of La Paix des Braves in 2002, the responsibility for ensuring that friendship centres were properly funded and supported was transferred to the Grand Council of the Crees.

“It’s with this section [of La Paix des Braves] under which we are entering into a new dialogue with the Grand Council, hoping to get a process going in terms of how the Cree authorities will meet these responsibilities that have been transferred to them, from the James Bay Agreement to the Paix des Braves,” said Édith Cloutier, executive director of the Val-d’Or Friendship Centre.

According to Cloutier, the importance of strengthening the relationship between Cree authorities and friendship centres stems from the changes in how Crees are living today, nearly 40 years after the establishment of friendship centres across the province. The increased number of Crees living off-reserve today has reinforced the importance of these Friendship Centres as a vital resource for the community.

“We’ve been in existence since 1974,” she said. “This friendship centre was founded by Aboriginal communities, Crees and Algonquins, so that people transiting through the city or living in the city would have access to services and have a community space.

“There are more and more Cree people living in Val-d’Or for example,” she added. “Now in 2012, we are looking at the reality of the services that are being provided, and seeing to what extent we have a Cree-based clientele.”

The friendship centres offer a variety of services to Aboriginal peoples, such as health and education services, social services, a youth centre, as well as room-and-board services for Aboriginals transiting in the city, sometimes for medical services.

With this new reality, and with the responsibilities that have been given to Cree authorities, Cloutier, as well as friendship centre heads in Chibougamau and Senneterre, are looking for ways to expand the GCC’s role in assisting and supporting the friendship centre network. Referring specifically to the Val-d’Or Friendship Centre, Cloutier wants the GCC to have a greater understanding of how important a resource it is for the community.

“We’re developing a document in which we present the impact that this friendship centre has in regards to meeting the needs of Cree people in Val-d’Or,” she said. “The next step is to enter into a level of discussion that would move us towards identifying not just what would be adequate funding, but towards a more comprehensive agreement which recognizes the impact that this friendship centre has… and to become an organization that is recognized within Cree structures as being a service provider.”

For Cloutier, formalizing an agreement with the Grand Council would be a way for the friendship centre to tap into the services and capabilities of the GCC, such as its legal team, so that they may better serve the Cree community living in Val-d’Or.

“We’re having discussions on how we can formalize an agreement and that relationship,” she said. “It’s not just about getting funding. Before we get to that, it’s about formalizing that recognition into an understanding that would state clearly that this friendship centre, through its services and programs, enhance the quality of life of Crees people.

“We have to go beyond intention and go towards action,” she said.