The history of Friendship Centres in British Columbia dates back to 1954 when a group of concerned Aboriginal people in Vancouver formed the Coqualeetza Fellowship Club in order to provide support services to Aboriginal students moving to the city. Although providing support to students remained a primary objective of this group, the organizers over the next few years found themselves responding to ever increasing requests for services from Aboriginal people moving into Vancouver. In 1963, the incorporation of the Coqualeetza Fellowship Club as the Vancouver Indian Centre Society marked the beginning of the Friendship Centre movement in British Columbia.
By the mid 1960's, the number of Aboriginal people moving to urban areas had escalated to the point where support organizations were emerging in many Centres across the Province. Other Centres whose history dates back to this period include:
Port Alberni (1965), Nanaimo (1968), Williams Lake (1969), Prince George (1969), Fort St. John (1970).
In response to the growing need to provide services to urban Aboriginal people, in 1971 the Federal government, through the Department of the Secretary of State, introduced the Migrating Native People's Program which provided core funding to Friendship Centres. Over the next ten years, this initiative led to fourteen new Centres being established in B.C., attesting to both the need and community support existing across the Province.
In these early years, Friendship Centres were primarily perceived as a place where Aboriginal people could drop in and have a cup of coffee; a place where they could socialize with their own people and receive emotional support. During these formative years, Friendship Centres offered few direct services as their primary role was to refer people to existing social service agencies.
As Friendship Centres became established in their communities and gained acceptance with service agencies and the community at large, a trend emerged in the mid 1970s which saw Aboriginal people being referred from agencies to the Centres. This development marked a major change for the movement as Friendship Centres, in cooperation with government agencies, began to provide a number of client based services in the areas of employment, substance abuse, family support, legal services and cultural retention. During these early years, Friendship Centres also initiated programs and services designed to educate and inform non Aboriginal people as to the needs, aspirations and culture of the Aboriginal residents in the community. This remains a primary objective of Friendship Centres, which by definition are committed to developing a better understanding between Aboriginal and non Aboriginal cultures.
Today, in an era marked by continuing high unemployment rates, cutbacks in government spending and general economic uncertainty, Friendship Centres play an even more important role in the Aboriginal community. No longer do they simply provide social, cultural and recreational services, but they also act as agents of change; they are actively involved in the community development process and play a vital leadership role in their communities; they promote and provide training and education programs and services; they are becoming actively involved in the economic development process; they operate quality housing programs for Aboriginal people with low incomes and operate health programs which emphasize a holistic approach to treatment; they are committed to providing quality services which provide for the physical, emotional and spiritual well being of their clients.
While each Centre is as unique as the community it serves, all are united in their effort to improve the quality of life of Canada's Aboriginal people and to protect and preserve Aboriginal culture for the benefit of all Canadians. Friendship Centres are reflective of the communities they serve, controlled at the local level and, above all else, responsible to and responsive to, the people they serve.
It is the belief of Friendship Centres that Aboriginal people played an important role in the development of Canada as a nation and will play an even more important role in the future. They support the movement toward Aboriginal Self Government and encourage the full participation of Aboriginal people in Canadian society.
Friendship Centres have been active in British Columbia since the Coqualeetza Fellowship Society formed a drop in and referral centre for Vancouver's Aboriginal population in the 1950s.
Since then the movement has grown within B.C. to encompass 25 Friendship Centres who are part of the 114 member National Association of Friendship Centres.
In 1972, the need to organize at a regional and national level, prompted B.C. Friendship Centres to participate in the founding of two organizations: the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) and the Pacific Association of Communication in Indian Friendship Centres (PACIFIC).
Pacific Association of Communications in Indian Friendship Centres
PACIFIC was formed with an initial membership of 10 Centres who decided that a provincial body mandated to provide communication support to the growing Friendship Centre movement was a pressing priority. From 1972 to 1975 PACIFIC ran its operations on donations from member Centres and volunteer labour.
In 1975, the provincial government, through the Ministry of Social Services began funding PACIFIC. From this point forward, PACIFIC became an organized political voice, lobbying on such issues as Aboriginal rights and land claims, while at the same time providing communications support to local Centres. A significant undertaking from this period was the development of a newsletter and media relations handbook.
Throughout this time period PACIFIC counted numerous contributions to the Friendship Centre movement. Among these were:
- the establishment of ten new Friendship Centres;
- a Board/staff training program for local Centres;
- the establishment of the Legal Information Worker Program;
- the development of a comprehensive benefits package for Friendship Centre staff; and
- the introduction of a Consumer Education Program.
In 1980, the provincial government ceased funding for PACIFIC and the office closed.
British Columbia Association of Indian Friendship Centres
In 1982, the Friendship Centres in B.C. reinvented their provincial organization in response to the ongoing need for coordinated activities at the provincial level. The new organization, the B.C. Association of Indian Friendship Centres (BCAIFC) was formed to foster unity among the 20 Friendship Centres in B.C. and lobby and communicate on their behalf.
Each member Centre appointed a person to sit on the Board of the new organization and the Executive was elected at the annual general meeting. The BCAIFC also provided a representative to sit on the National Association of Friendship Centres' board.
For the first five years of its existence, the BCAIFC operated without government funding. In 1987-88, the provincial Ministry of Native Affairs, through the First Citizens Fund began providing core resources to the BCAIFC. The initial contribution was $25,000 and this has increased to $575,000 in present day.
Throughout the years, this funding has allowed the BCAIFC to develop, increasing the programs available to local Centres and strengthening the profile of B.C.'s Friendship Centres.
The major achievements of this nine year funding history are detailed here. They occur primarily in the areas of local support, province wide initiatives and self-sufficiency.
BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres
Pursuant to a board motion at the 1996 annual general meeting, the BCAIFC officially changed its operating name to the British Columbia Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.