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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.

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

Wally Samuel and Marjorie White recognized at Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council AGM

The BCAAFC Elders Council members are known for their commitment to helping others

Read the Ha-Shilth-Sa article here: Know where you come from: Nuu-chah-nulth members recognized for commitment to their nations

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council’s annual general meeting (AGM) was hosted by Ahousaht on September 25, 2019. Several community members were recognized for their knowledge sharing, advocacy, and leadership, including Wally Samuel and Marjorie White.

Wally Samuel has been involved with the Port Alberni Friendship Centre since 1980, helping Indigenous people living off-reserve in Port Alberni access culturally relevant services and support resources. Wally spoke about the issue of homelessness at the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council AGM and the work being done to create an Ahousaht housing society in Port Alberni.

Marjorie (Marge) White is a founding member of the Friendship Centre Movement in British Columbia. She has received the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada for her outstanding contributions towards improving the lives of others. Marge says she never forgets where she came from and the greatest reward is to be recognized by her own people.

Marge and Wally are members of the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres Elders Council. We are honoured to have their guidance and congratulate them on their achievements.

Mental Health & Wellness Engagement Sessions

The BCAAFC has secured funding from the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions (MMHA) to conduct engagement sessions with service providers and service users in each Friendship Centre. These sessions will map existing wellness programs and identify program strengths, gaps and emerging priorities.

Sessions are currently underway. Here is a look at upcoming engagement sessions:

October 2, Port Alberni Friendship Centre

October 4, Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre (Smithers)

October 8, Quesnel Friendship Society

October 10, Cariboo Friendship Society (Williams Lake)

October 29, Sacred Wolf Friendship Centre (Port Hardy)

October 30, Wachiay Friendship Centre (Courtenay)

November 13, Ooknakane Friendship Centre (Penticton)

November 14, Ki-Low-Na Friendship Centre (Kelowna)

November 15, North Okanagan Friendship Centre Society (Vernon)

November 25, Conayt Friendship Centre (Merritt)

November 27, Lillooet Friendship Centre

November 28, Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society

December 4, Mission Friendship Centre

Please connect with your Friendship Centre for more details regarding the time and location of each session.

Ooknakane Friendship Centre | Just Like Paula Says

Penticton, B.C. — Ooknakane Friendship Centre (OFC) Mental Health and Addictions Program provides counselling services for anxiety, stress, family conflict, and addiction.

OFC is one of 25 Friendship Centres located in BC. Friendship Centres are a place for guidance and support, emphasizing respect and compassion for one another in the delivery of their programs and services. Together, Friendship Centres see approximately 4,500 clients each week.

Just Like Paula Says describes Christopher McGowan’s experience with OFC Mental Health and Addictions Counselor, Paula Jacobs. Paula listened to Christopher and became an inspiration for him on his path to personal growth.

Today, Christopher provides peer support at OFC, among other roles, and helps others progress on their own journey.

Watch the documentary short film:

Just Like Paula Says – Christopher McGowan’s Journey from Lydia Frederick on Vimeo.