Community. It isn’t just a word, it is a need.

Living in an urban setting is incredibly stressful for me sometimes.  It is noisy.  It is big.  It smells.  I am surrounded by people who do not know me, who do not know my family, who are strangers with no connections to myself or my home community. I sometimes feel as though my daughters and I exist in a space apart, alone and unseen.

Mine is not an isolated experience.  Anyone who has moved from a tight-knit rural community, into a city, has a lot to adjust to.  People who immigrate here from other countries also experience dislocation and alienation.

Native peoples are now overwhelmingly concentrated in southern urban centres.

However, as of 2006, 54% of aboriginal peoples lived in an urban centre, which was a 50% increase in only 10 years.  We have a much younger population than the non-native population, with our median age being 27, compared to 40 among non-aboriginal peoples.  Half of our total population is comprised of children and youth. We are the fastest growing population in Canada with a growth rate six times higher than the non-native population.

The challenges we face as native peoples in urban settings are unique to us, and our particular needs are growing at an incredible rate because of the increased pace of urbanisation and the native ‘population explosion’ (watch out, we might fall out of the air at any time!).  It would be more than foolish to ignore this trend or to liken it to the experience of any other group in Canada.

What an urban community means to me

When I first came to Montreal, it was First People’s House at McGill that kept me from succumbing to the alienation.  As soon as class was done, I would head over to the FPH and study, or chat, or whatever.  More importantly, I was able to relax.

One artist's take on the term 'Concrete Indians'.

Having a community is not something that I merely desire.  Without it, I cannot function.  My culture is incredibly important to me, but I am not even talking about cultural events here…I’m talking about being around other native people.  It is so very simple.   I can literally feel my body relaxing.  We joke, we drink tea, we talk, we let the kids play, we read, we study, we sit, we are.  It doesn’t matter where we come from, whether we are Dene, Cree, Mohawk, Inuk, Métis and so on.  Being around people who face similar challenges, and who value similar things, is important.  No, scratch that.  For me, it is absolutely essential to my well-being.

I feel this same sense of belonging and comfort when I go to the Native Friendship Centre here in Montreal.  So when I heard last week that the Inter-tribal Youth Centre is closing its doors on March 31st, and that the Friendship Centre itself was slated to be closed within three months, I felt like something vital was being taken away from us.  Something that many of us do not merely want, but absolutely need.

The Native Friendship Centres

The first Native Friendship Centre opened in 1951 in Toronto. Then called the North American Indian Club, the centre was opened to deliver services to native peoples who had moved into the city to seek better economic opportunities.  Friendship centres back then were mostly volunteer-run, providing cultural and social programming to community members. The focus was, and in many ways continues to be, on aiding people with the difficult transition from an isolated rural lifestyle to a radically different urban one.

As the number of aboriginal peoples moving into city centres increased, so did the demand for services and community contact.  In 1972, the National Association of Friendship Centres was formed.

As of 2011-2012, Friendship Centres across Canada delivered 1,439 programs to over 2.3 million participants on a status blind basis – that is, equally to status and non-status First Nations, Métis, Inuit and non-Aboriginal people. Furthermore, the entire Friendship Centre Movement consisting of 119 Friendship Centres will deliver $123,990,823 million in programs and services to Canada’s rapidly increasing urban Aboriginal population.

Montreal may lose its Native Friendship Centre

Montreal does not have the largest urban native population, but we're in the top 12.

This National Association does not oversee the actual individual Friendship Centres, which are run by provincial or territorial organisations.  In Quebec, that provincial group is the RCAAQ, Le Regroupement des centres d’amitié autochtones du Quebec.

In October of 2011, the RCAAQ revoked the provincial membership of the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal (NFCM), stating that the NFCM unilaterally rejected the Final Special Bilateral Agreement.  I have been unable to find that Agreement to see what possible issues there are within it, and I have been unable to get in touch with anyone at the RCAAQ.

In any case, the NFCM has basically been running on fumes since then, and in three months will have to close its doors.

I don’t care what the issues are, the NFCM needs to stay open

I don’t know the fully story here.  I don’t know who did what.  What I do know is that a number of people have been working damn hard, for many years, to keep the NFCM alive and as a result the community has benefited.

I know that I access the NFCM 5-7 times a year with my kids.  I know that there are people who use it a heck of a lot more.  I know that the Intertribal Youth Centre had some absolutely kick-ass programming, and I know that every time I set foot in the Friendship Centre, I feel at home.

I know that when I was thousands of kilometres away from my family and community this Christmas, the NFCM made me and my daughters feel welcome.

This is not the kind of thing that should be allowed to fade away unnoticed.  Nor should responsibility for funding be downloaded onto the community it is trying to serve.  The Friendship Centre system provides an incredible opportunity to address a myriad of issues faced by aboriginal peoples in urban settings.

I will attend the community feast this Wednesday, and in the meantime, I am going to try to find out what can be done to support the NFCM and ensure that it keeps providing urban native peoples with the support and community that keeps so many of us going.

For those of you living in other cities, I hope that you will support your local Friendship Centre.  Perhaps you weren’t even aware they exist, or aren’t really sure what kinds of programs they offer.  It is well worth your time to find out.


At a Special Assembly on March 21st, it was decided that there would be a Day of Action Planning and Mobilisation on April 5th from 6-9pm at the Native Friendship Centre (2001 St Laurent, with Ontario).

There is also a community feast tonight (March 28th) from 6-9pm. A petition is currently circulating with the following:

This petition is for the support of the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal, the Centre’s core funding has been suspended indefinitely. This would likely force the closure of the Friendship Centre within three months.

This petition will be sent to the following organizations The National Association of Friendship Centers, Regroupement des centres d’amitié autochtones du Québec.

Your signature would assist with giving a strong voice to the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal.

We the undersigned support the full reinstatement of core funding under the Aboriginal Friendship Centre Program (AFCP)

A copy of this petition can be downloaded here, if you wish to collect signatures.  French version here.

In addition, there is a petition specific to the Inter-tribal Youth Centre which is closing this week.  Here is the English version, and here is the French.

If you want to help, please write some letters

Petitions are great, but letters personalise an issue and have the potential to make a big impact.  If you wish to write letters in support of the Inter-tribal Youth Centre and the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal, here is some contact information:

Le Regroupement des centres d’amitié autochtones du Québec
225, Chef-Max-Gros-Louis, bureau 250
Wendake (Québec)
G0A 4V0
Téléphone : 418-842-6354
Ligne sans frais (toll free) : 1-877-842-635

Josee Goulet – Executive director of the RCAAQ

Edith Cloutier – President of the RCAAQ
819 825-8299

National Association of Friendship Centres
275 MacLaren Street
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
K2P 0L9

Tel: 613-563-4844
Toll Free: (877) 563-4844
Fax: 613-594-3428

Jeff Syr is the President of the NAFC.

The whole Friendship Centre Movement is funding by the department of Canadian Heritage.

Canadian Heritage
15 Eddy Street
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0M5

Telephone: 819-997-0055
Toll-free*: 1-866-811-0055

Minister of Canadian Heritage, James Moore.
Community Office
James Moore MP
2603 St. John’s Street
Port Moody, BC, V3H 2B5

Ottawa Office of Canadian Heritage
James Moore MP
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A5

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Categories: Alienation, Culture, First Nations

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12 Responses to Community. It isn’t just a word, it is a need.

  1. Susan says:

    Hi and thanks for talking up for the Montreal NFC. I’ve gone there for alternative thanksgiving, done volunteer one christmas, and donated some clothing, etc.

    Great that you mention how horrible it is to lack community. In the midst of ‘my own people’, I sure miss those who care about the same things.

    Thanks for your great work!

    Plateau Montreal

  2. Cynthia Preston says:

    How do we help?
    As a divided person, I feel at home in the company of Caribean, or Guyanese of mixed heritage-to a point. But because my father is English, and I spent the formative portion of my childhood with my English family in England in English cultural patterns, I feel at home when I am with ex pat Brits- to a point.
    I also grew up in a small Canadian city in Southern Ontario, and I share the experience of growing up among other northern European immigrant families and so feel at home in their company-to a point. I spent 23 years in a small Western Alberta town up against the Rockies, with my Cheshire husband having children and raising them in a smelly resource driven community feeling the pressures of an immigrant in Canadian disguise, and I felt at home-to a point.
    Several times a year some, or all, of my children gather together with us their parents to celebrate the holy days of our religion, culture, family, in our unique and mutually appreciative way, and I feel whole, without reservation, at home in their presence.
    Which goes to show home is family who understands where you came from, how you are surviving/flourishing/or struggling, with whom you share a common understand where when you are together as family, put aside judgement, criticism, concern, doubt, and just live in the moment of acceptance, appreciation, faith, hope and joy.

    I believe you are blessed in the Native Friendship Centres across this country. How can we who are not connected through ancestry, culture, or experience, help keep this centre which is so important in the lives of our indigenious community in Montreal?

    • On March 21st, the NFCM held a Special Assembly where it was decided that there will be a Day of Action Planning and Mobilisation held at the Native Friendship Centre from 6-9pm on April 5th.

      I would urge anyone, native or non, to come out and support the organisation and lend a hand in ensuring the doors do not close.

      • Cynthia Preston says:

        Can you give us some idea how funding works for Native Friendship Centres across the country? I would like to be able to help in some small way from here in Alberta to help in Montreal, but also those centres in my own ‘neighbourhood’.

        • I’m not 100% sure on this, but it seems that the National Friendship Centres organisation is the one that provides the funding to individual Friendship Centres. Thus the funding nationally comes through INAC, and then to the NAFC, and then to the centres. In addition, it appears that some provinces fund the centres to some degree as well through their respective Ministries of Aboriginal Affairs. Ontario gave $1 million in 2006.

          So it appears to be a combination of federal and provincial funding. Though since the Friendship Centres are often the providers of various outreach programs, there may be funding coming from Health Canada and other ministries as well. I’m not completely clear on the funding arrangements yet.

  3. Ida Mont says:

    I was at that meeting last Wednesday wanting to know how this closing occurred and why they were coming to us at the last minute. They told the community members present that they made phone calls and no one was returning their calls.
    I called around for answers to the many questions that I had and found out that the NFCM does indeed have all those documents giving the answers to the many questions that I had. With the few phone calls that I made, I was told that the Executive Director has all the documents and agreements that they were to follow to ensure that the doors remained open. Now why is he saying he doesn’t know why the doors are closing?
    Someone is holding back on sharing those documents. Even a couple of board members approached me that night saying that they had the same questions that I had. Something is not right.
    How did this all lead to the centre getting the doors closed? I want to know.

    • The why is fairly straightforward. When the NFCM was suspended back in October of 2011, its sources of funding were withdrawn, and the Centre has been running on savings since. This much has been known for a couple of months.

      The why behind that is much less clear. Why was the NFCM suspended? What happened between the Centre and the RCAAQ? What is being asked of the NFCM and are those demands reasonable or achievable? What is being done beyond the Centre itself to ensure that Montreal does not lose an essential service? The RCAAQ at least should be shedding more light on this situation if the answers aren’t coming yet from the NFCM.

  4. Sarah says:

    Here it’s the AICH. It keeps running.

    Hope you are able to find out the ‘why’. And I would think that the greater community of Montreal (not just the First People) would have an interest in seeing this continue.

  5. Eleanor Grant says:

    Thanks for this powerful piece.

    It might interest you to know that here in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario – the nearest big city to the Six Nations – there isn’t a Friendship Centre. Apparently it’s because we are deemed to be too close to other centres in Brantford and Toronto. This in spite of there being more that 10,000 native folks here.

    Something’s wrong with the formula somebody is using.

  6. Emo says:

    In related and yet unrelated news, the budget for the First Nations Statistical Institute was just eliminated… it has/had just 23 employees to provide statistical analysis for all First Nations in Canada, and it only existed since 2005.

    If you haven’t heard much from them (nor seen any publications) apparently there was a bureaucratic delay because the federal government didn’t appoint a board of directors until 2009, and, thus, they have been able to exist and operate only since that time.

    In terms of a small institution that could have big (positive) effects, that would (have been) one of them.

  7. Kelly says:

    You have provided a number of organizations that can be lobbied. Can you suggest where cheques can be sent to support the Centre

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