Funding fight threatens House of Friendship

The Hiiye’Yu Lelum (House of Friendship) Society in Duncan says it faces a financial crisis.

  • May. 6, 2016 8:00 p.m.

ROBERT BARRON CITIZEN

The Hiiye’Yu Lelum (House of Friendship) Society in Duncan says it faces a financial crisis.

The centre for First Nations people, along with more than 20 other friendship centres in the province, has yet to receive some of its core funding for 2016. The money from the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada pays for much of its administrative costs.

Debbie Williams, executive director of the Hiiye’Yu Lelum Society, said it’s unknown at this time if the friendship centre, or any of the other friendship centres in B.C., will receive the funding any time soon.

However, officials at INAC claim the money is budgeted for the friendship centres, but B.C.’s centres have yet to submit their work plans for 2016-17.

Among its many functions, the society provides a central and urban facility in the Cowichan Valley for First Nations people where counselling, information and referral services are provided, and where meetings, as well as educational and recreational activities, take place.

Williams said the department’s funding for the Duncan centre totals approximately $150,000 per year, which is just about five per cent of the centre’s annual budget, but it pays for the administrative team that runs the facility.

“Our funding is sometimes late, but there has always been a commitment in place that it would be provided,” Williams said.

“We’re facing a lot of uncertainty right now, and we don’t know what to do. It seems the department made a unilateral decision to make some critical changes to this program without consulting us.”

Approximately $23 million had been earmarked for the friendship centres in B.C. from the department’s budget from 2014-19.

Carl Mashon, executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, said that without the funding that was approved from the department’s urban aboriginal strategy program, many friendship centres in the province will be forced to end critical services for indigenous families, and many may need to close their doors completely within the next two months.

Mashon said that, despite commitments from Ottawa that the UAS program funding would be renewed in its current form, department officials are now unilaterally and without consultation changing key elements of the national program.

“It is our opinion that INAC officials are changing the trajectory of UAS and not honouring the spirit and intent of our historic partnership with the federal government,” Mashon said.

“In B.C., friendship centres are the largest network of social service organizations supporting the critical needs of urban Indigenous people, and they hold key partnerships in every community.”

A statement from INAC said that ensuring effective programs and services are in place to meet the needs of urban indigenous people is “critical.”

It said the government’s budget for 2016 confirms the continuation of funding for the urban aboriginal strategy, and also outlines the government’s commitment to work in partnership to strengthen the strategy so it works for all indigenous people.

“The department is ready to flow funds and we can do so after we receive the work plan for 2016-17 and the contribution agreement is finalized,” the statement said.

“We also strongly encourage the friendship centres to proceed with a call for proposals for program funding to ensure recipients can undertake their work as soon as possible.”