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How Friendship Centres Are Supporting Communities During COVID-19

The 25 Friendship Centres in British Columbia have been contributing to the health and wellbeing of Indigenous people for almost 70 years.

At the best of times, Friendships Centres work against high unemployment rates, cutbacks in government spending, and general economic uncertainty.

Now, amid the global COVID-19 crisis, Friendship Centres continue to find ways to provide critical services with disproportionately less support from provincial and federal governments.

Friendship Centre doors are closed to the public so that staff can take all possible measures to operate programs and services safely, including:

  • Ensuring minimal points of contact when preparing care kits and managing deliveries
  • Frequent sanitation
  • Providing direction on physical distancing protocols
  • Using safety equipment when possible

The increase in requests for Friendship Centres services, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, surpasses the funds and resources available. Staff are committed to doing the best they can with limited supplies, safety protection, equipment, and financial resources; balancing their own health and safety with the health and safety of their clients, communities and relatives.

Friendship Centre networks understand the unique circumstances within the communities they serve and have found creative ways to help as many people as possible despite present challenges.

How Friendship Centres have adapted to meet community needs:

  • Increased number of meal distribution days per week
  • Delivering meals to individuals unable to travel to the Friendship Centre (such as Elders and shut ins)
  • Offering supervision for children while parents and caregivers get shopping done
  • Collaborating with local businesses and communities to connect individuals and families in need with food resources available
  • Purchasing slow cookers for families and delivering weekly recipes and ingredients so that families may prepare healthy meals together
  • Offering grocery pick-up and delivery services
  • Offering grocery gift cards and coupons to families and individuals
  • Constructing vegetable gardens and greenhouses, planting fruit trees and berries to provide fresh produce
  • Implementing extra safety precautions in overnight shelter facilities to protect the health of clients and staff
  • Distributing hygiene kits to homeless, creating handwashing stations
  • Implementing extra precautions to continue providing access to storage space, washrooms, showers, and laundry, as safely as possible
  • Setting up clients in isolation with tablets and Zoom to stay connected to each other and Friendship Centre counsellors
  • Preparing and distributing an outline of all support organizations within the community (i.e. hours of operation, if the office is open/closed, contact information, services available), and updating the document weekly to provide clarity for clients
  • Helping clients access housing subsidies and other financial resources available to them
  • Purchasing Chromebooks for youth who need access to school work
  • Hosting Facebook live classes for programs
  • Delivering infant care kits to pregnant individuals (food boxes, diapers, formula)
  • Delivering client care kits containing games, arts, and cultural crafts for all ages
  • Maintaining client contact and providing counselling services via phone, teleconference, social media, etc.
  • Providing harm reduction supplies
  • Providing prescription pick-up and delivery

Thank you to staff, volunteers, leaders, frontline workers, knowledge keepers, and every community member doing their best to help one another and protect the health and safety of their communities. We are stronger when we work together.

Please contact us at if there is anyway that we can collaborate to better serve communities during this time.


COVID-19: April 17, 2020

No Emergency Funding for BC Friendship Centres Confirmed

The 25 Friendship Centres located in British Columbia have not received any additional funding to support the increased need for Friendship Centre services during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The BCAAFC has requested emergency funding from the provincial government, no funding has been confirmed. 

The National Association of Friendship Centres has submitted a proposal to the Indigenous Community Support Fund, no funding for Friendship Centres has been confirmed.

COVID-19 support resources:



BC Friendship Centres Over Capacity

At this time, BC Friendship Centres have not received any additional funding to support the increase in requests for services from BC First Nations members during the COVID-19 pandemic.⁣⁣

Please know that each Friendship Centre is doing the very best they can to serve their urban Indigenous clients and community members in need, but are over capacity with reduced resources and no additional supports.⁣⁣

Friendship Centre staff are challenged with balancing their own heath and safety, the health and safety of their families, and the health and safety of their clients.⁣⁣

Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time of crisis.⁣

Please connect with us if there is anyway we can collaborate to better serve those in need:


Friendship Centres work to provide essential services during COVID-19 pandemic

Media Release

Victoria, B.C. — April 8, 2020 — Friendship Centres are experiencing an increase in requests for services from First Nations communities and vulnerable populations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Collectively, Friendship Centres are the largest infrastructure serving urban Indigenous populations across Canada, providing services critical to the health and wellbeing of their clients for almost 70 years. At their core, Friendship Centres are committed to a brighter future for all, helping whoever walks through their doors in need of supports, no matter their ancestry or Indigenous status.

“We do what we can for all Indigenous people, and when we are in times of emergency, like this COVID-19 pandemic, we pull together, and do our very best to address the increased need for services,” Leslie Varley, Executive Director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (BCAAFC), is working alongside the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) to secure supports for centres providing essential and urgent services to communities. The NAFC is submitting a funding proposal to the federal government on behalf of Friendship Centres nation-wide, in hopes of receiving a portion of the $15 million in emergency funding allocated for urban Indigenous organizations.

The 25 Friendship Centres located in B.C. have a history of supporting people during times of crisis, some serving as evacuation support centres during intense wildfire seasons. During this pandemic, Friendship Centres are continuing to provide essential services whenever possible, and many are working to fulfill additional urgent needs, such as shelter services for people experiencing homelessness. Other Friendship Centres are reaching out to ensure neighbouring Indigenous communities have access to services that other groups and organizations are not providing for.

The BCAAFC is requesting additional supports from the provincial government, and seeking opportunities to collaborate with other organizations and governing bodies to ensure Indigenous and Métis people, wherever they reside, are not suffering due to jurisdictional boundaries.

The backgrounder attached outlines the requests made by Friendship Centres in order to safely provide essential and urgent services.

For more information, please contact:
Leslie Varley, Executive Director, BCAAFC
250-893-0494 |


B.C. Friendship Centres

Each Friendship Centre is an autonomous not-for-profit organization, governed by a local board of volunteer directors. Each centre develops programs and services depending on the needs identified by community members.

The province of B.C. accepts that 85% of Indigenous people in BC reside off reserve. This means many Indigenous people living off reserve are in dire need of supports and services; however, at this point, few additional services and resources are available to Friendship Centres.

Federal Government: Indigenous Community Support Fund

The $305 million in funding announced by the federal government breaks down as follows:
– $125 million for First Nations, with a base amount for each
– $45 million for Inuit determined by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and land-claim groups
– $30 million for Métis Nation communities, through provincial bodies
– $15 million for Indigenous urban organizations (Canada-wide)

Across Canada, only urban Indigenous organizations, such as Friendship Centres, are required to apply for funding through a national proposal process, rather than receiving the funds allocated directly.

Friendship Centres Requests

The National Association of Friendship Centres is submitting a proposal on behalf of all Friendship Centres for a portion of the $15 million funding available for Indigenous urban organizations.

Friendship Centres have asked for:
– Food and food vouchers to address food insecurity
– Care packages delivered to those with health problems and shut-ins
– Home kits for postpartum parents, including diapers and formula
– Cold and flu medications and other basic medications and first aid kits
– Travel supports for those who are having to resort to hitchhiking in areas like the Highway of Tears
– Taxi vouchers for those needing to get supplies or go to a doctor
– Supports for the homeless, including bedding, warm clothing, tents, and storage
– Cell phones for isolated elders, shut-ins and homeless folks so they can stay in contact with loved ones and service providers
– Hand washing stations, gloves, masks and sanitizer, for Friendship Centre staff and communities

B.C. Friendship Centres as Essential Service Providers

Friendship Centres fulfill the Government of B.C.’s criteria for essential service providers, excerpt as follows:

“Vulnerable Population Service Providers
– Businesses and non-profits that provide food, shelter, social, and support services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise vulnerable individuals, such as:

  • Community Kitchens
  • Voluntary and community service providers
  • Mental health, substance use and addictions services
  • Transitional, social and support housing

– Childcare services for those persons providing essential services
– Caregivers for children in care and out of care.”

In addition to the essential services defined, many Friendship Centres also provide specialized services, such as safe transition houses for women and families fleeing violence, and social housing.


– Government of Canada. (April 6, 2020). Indigenous Community Support Fund.
– Government of British Columbia. (April 3, 2020). List of COVID-19 Essential Services.


Doulas for Aboriginal Families Grant Program: Changes to doula eligibility requirements

Media Release – British Columbia

April 1, 2020

More Indigenous birth workers will have access to the Doulas for Aboriginal Families Grant Program (DAFGP) under its new eligibility requirements. The program, delivered by the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, provides Indigenous families living in BC up to $1,000.00 for doula support. Since 2013, the program has increased healthy birth outcomes for Indigenous families by removing the cost barrier to accessing doula services and bringing the birthing process closer to home.

The program’s previous doula eligibility requirements included certification through non-Indigenous oriented organizations, creating a barrier to accessing the program for many Indigenous birth workers. The new changes recognize that eligibility to the program must consider Indigenous peoples’ longstanding and enduring traditions of birth work.

These changes are already being celebrated by Indigenous service providers across BC. “The shift in requirements allows our Birth Keepers to be free of colonial restraints […] that otherwise impede the good work that has always been traditionally carried out”, shared the Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Center Association (FRAFCA) Indigenous Birth Keeper Collective. “The [new] requirements give families greater opportunity to access culturally-safe, trauma-informed, traditional birth supports.”

Indigenous birth work positively influences Indigenous health, despite the disruption of Indigenous birth practices through policies such as residential schools and the biomedicalization of birth. Doulas can act as advocates for families and make positive contributions in situations where people are cited as high-risk, are without family supports, or are birthing away from their home communities. The program has also recently released a travel grant to support doulas for this purpose.

Indigenous families look to their own rich cultural traditions to inform their pregnancy-related experiences, and Indigenous doulas can facilitate incorporating traditional practices into the birthing process. As Indigenous doula care emerges as a best practice in Indigenous reproductive and maternal health care, assessment and response, the DAFGP is proud to increase access to Indigenous doula supports.

Visit for more information about the grant program.

For inquiries, please contact: Kassandra Woods at (250) 388-5522 ext. 252 or

“We have Elders, Knowledge Keepers, Medicine people, parents, youth, children, and babies that constitute our community. Everyone is invested in supporting our Life Givers through the birth transition in a good way. This is a traditional value.”

FRAFCA’s Indigenous Birth Keeper Collective is grounded in culture and works as a close-knit community of perinatal support to families.

National Indigenous Languages Day

Thank you to all the Elders, knowledge keepers, speakers, and language learners working to revitalize, maintain and strengthen Indigenous languages.

Whether you are just beginning or an expert, your efforts represent the strength of Indigenous languages, cultures, and traditions, despite colonial policies designed to silence them.

Language resources

FirstVoices (First Peoples’ Cultural Council) – a suite of web-based tools and services designed to support Indigenous people engaged in language archiving, language teaching and cultural revitalization.

Apps for Learning an Indigenous Language (Animikii) – a list of 30 language apps to supplement language learning.

Indigenous Languages of British Columbia (Government of British Columbia) – curriculum packages developed for grades 5 to 12

BC has the largest diversity of Indigenous languages in Canada


Leslie Varley and CBC Radio: What COVID-19 means for urban Indigenous communities

March 27, 2020

“First Nations communities are bracing for what will happen if COVID-19 reaches their doors. Some have declared their own states of emergency, and are banning outsiders to prevent COVID-19 from infecting their communities.

But it is impossible to capture the full picture of Indigenous health in Canada without looking at urban Indigenous communities. 

More than 60 per cent of Indigenous people in Canada live off-reserve. Many urban Indigenous organizations worry the people they serve are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, and could fall through the cracks. 

Leslie Varley, the executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, spoke to The Sunday Edition‘s host Michael Enright about what COVID-19 means for urban Indigenous people.”

Listen to the full interview here

Leslie Varley speaks on CBC Radio, March 27, 2020

March 2020: Connecting online during physical distancing

Thank you to all the frontline workers and every community member doing their part to take care of one another during the challenges we are facing with COVID-19. The community efforts during this time have been heart-warming amid the concern and uncertainty we are all feeling.

Physical (social) distancing and isolation affect everyone’s mental health and emotional well-being in different ways. It’s important to check-in with yourself and others during this time and reach-out for additional support when needed.

Education plays a key role in the health and safety of our communities; nonetheless, the continuous cycle of COVID-19 updates can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are many organizations and individuals utilizing the power of social media to share online content that adds some light to the time indoors.  

We’ve compiled a list of resources for people to access from home, inspired by ImagineNATIVE.

This list is only a snapshot of some of the recommendations we’ve come across, please share a few of your own!

Participate in live streamed classes and events

Artists putting talents online to counter ‘this time of fear’ (APTN National News, March 19, 2020)

Canadian Roots Exchange (CRE) Online Programming 

Indigenous educators volunteer to teach short K-8 lessons online amid school closures

I·SPARC FitNation Channel—Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere! Take a movement break with I·SPARC.

‘Wellness Kitchen’ classes with Mission Friendship Centre Society Community Health Worker, Danya: Live videos every Wednesday at 2PM

Yale’s most popular class ever is available free online – and the topic is how to be happier in your daily life

Explore Indigenous film and media

Indigenous Cinema, National Film Board of Canada

If Not Us Then Who?: Short documentary stories from Indigenous communities in Indonesia, South America, and parts of Africa.

Mino Bimaadiziwin: Short film by Shane McSauby

nîpawistomâsowin: We Will Stand Up – Tasha Hubbard

One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk – Zacharias Kunuk

The Power Was With Us: Idle No More: Two-part docuseries, stream on APTN Lumi (5-day free trial)

Whale Rider: 15th Anniversary Edition

Learn from Indigenous motivational speakers

Anthony Johnson and Dr. James Makokis – The Amazing Race Canada S7

Dr. James Makokis – Two-Spirit Rites of Passage

Dr. Evan Adams – What’s Your Story

Grace Dove – WE Day Vancouver

Dr. Nel Wieman and Dr. Martin Guhn – Child-Wellbeing Through an Indigenous Lens

Nikki Fraser

Waneek Horn-Miller – Keynote address at Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness 2018

Appreciate Indigenous musicians and entertainers

Brandon Peters

Corey Allison Music

Dani and Lizzy

DJ O Show

DoZy & NWK

Kiva Morgan-Hall

RedPath Talent

The Melawmen Collective

Read work by Indigenous authors

2020 New Releases by Indigenous Authors (Raven Reads, 2020)

Peace and Good Order – Harold Johnson

Seven Fallen Feathers – Tanya Talaga

Trickster Drift – Eden Robinson

Starlight – Richard Wagamese

The Cheyenne Story: An Interpretation of Courage – Gerry Robinson

The Marrow Thieves – Cherie Dimaline

Subscribe to Indigenous podcasts

Ahkameyimok – National Chief Perry Bellegarde

All My Relations – Matika Wilbur, Adrienne Keene

MEDIA INDIGENA – Rick Harp, Candis Callison, Brock Pitawanakwat, Kim TallBear, Kenneth T. Williams

Red Man Laughing – Ryan McMahon

Teachings in The Air – Elder Gerry Oldman

The Secret Life of Canada – CBC Podcasts with Leah-Simone Bowen and Falen Johnson

What’s Up At Wachiay? – Rob Crowston (Wachiay Friendship Centre Society)

Watch live streamed musical performances 

Covid-19: Free online concerts by world-famous classical music venues (TheStar, March 17, 2020)

Music in the time of COVID-19: live performances you can stream from home (CBC, March 17, 2020)

Virtually tour museums and galleries

Google Arts & Culture lets you virtually tour museums and galleries around the world, similar to the Google Maps Street View feature!

Royal BC Museum Webinars: Streamed live on Zoom and the museum’s Facebook page. Check the event calendar for upcoming webinars!

  • RBCM@Home – designed for youth and adults
  • RBCM@Home (Kids) – like an online museum playdate
  • RBCM@Outside – a themed virtual fieldtrip to local destinations that are rich inhistory

Gathering Our Voices 2020 cancelled due to health concerns with COVID-19

Media Bulletin – British Columbia

March 12, 2020

It is with heavy hearts and careful consideration that we cancel this year’s Gathering Our Voices (GOV) event, which was scheduled to take place from March 16 to March 19 on Secwépemc traditional territory in Kamloops, B.C.

The decision to cancel GOV 2020 upholds the safety precautions recommended by provincial health authorities to best protect the health of the population with concerns around COVID-19.

GOV organizers have been in daily contact with the Office of the Provincial Health Officer and Interior Health. In B.C. the presence of COVID-19 has increased from containment to community transmission. The World Health Organization assessed that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic on March 11. The ability to predict the virus and protect our community has changed; therefore, we feel that cancelling the event is the best call to protect our families and communities. 

Over the next ten days we will be in contact with all registered groups, vendors, presenters, etc. to start the process of refunds and contract cancellation. Due to the sheer volume of work with cancelling such a large event, we ask for everyone’s patience as we proceed during the coming days.

A lot goes into planning for GOV each year, from youth, chaperones, Elders, staff, partners, the host communities, and all the participants who come together to learn from Indigenous youth leaders, celebrate culture, share knowledge, and foster connection. We appreciate everyone’s time and energy and while we believe cancelling the event is in the best interest of our attendees and their networks, we are deeply saddened that this year’s event will not take place.

Thank you for your support of Gathering Our Voices and we look forward to welcoming you next year.

If you do not hear from our team within the next ten days, or you have additional questions, please contact:

For media inquiries, please contact: Leslie Varley at 250-893-0494 or


Source: World Health Organization media briefing – 11 March 2020


Gathering Our Voices 2020 and Health Concerns with COVID-19

Media Bulletin – British Columbia

March 9, 2020

Gathering Our Voices (GOV) 2020 is set to kick off on Monday, March 16, on Secwépemc traditional territory in Kamloops, B.C. We are excited to host over 1,000 Indigenous youth delegates for four days of cultural celebrations, leadership workshops, and social events.

Safety and health is always first and foremost in our thoughts while we plan Gathering Our Voices, and this year, amongst concerns of COVID-19, is no different. We have been in touch with the Office of the Provincial Health Officer and Interior Health and we are doing everything in our power to ensure a safe and successful gathering.

The BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC) has stated, “It is not necessary to cancel school events, outings or field trips to public locations in B.C. and Canada and to most places in the world.” There have been 27 confirmed cases in B.C., which has a population of over five million, and health authorities are working to track and contain these cases.

We will continue to monitor the on-going situation and let delegates and attendees know immediately if our concern increases or changes need to be made.

Each group registered for GOV will receive information on the health and safety protocols leading up to and on-site at the event. Thank you for your support in taking care of one another. We are looking forward to seeing everyone in Kamloops next week!

For more information on COVID-19:
· BC CDC Recommendation for Post Secondary Students/Faculty
· Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) Information from CDC
· WHO myth busters – COVID-19

For more information on Gathering Our Voices:
· GOV website:
· Event updates:
· For general inquiries, contact or 250-388-5522 ext. 241