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NEWS RELEASE · 14th October 2010
Kermode Friendship Society
Urban Aboriginal Leaders call for long-term capacity funding for BC’s off-reserve Aboriginal Community

Leaders from BC’s Aboriginal Friendship Centres are gathering in Victoria later this month to urge the Provincial Government to adequately fund the vital services they provide to off- reserve Aboriginal people.

“Friendship Centres are the largest social infrastructure for our urban communities, yet the funding we get from the Province’s Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation doesn’t come close to meeting the growing needs of BC’s off-reserve Aboriginal people,” explains Grace Nielsen, President of the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.

In recent years, Friendship Centres have witnessed ongoing migration and exponential population growth, including a doubling of the urban Aboriginal youth population in the past 10 years. Today, over 60% of BC’s Aboriginal population live off-reserve – representing close to 150,000 people.

Urban Aboriginal people face disproportionate risks and barriers to living healthy and productive lives, including the lowest life expectancy and graduation rates, and some of the highest rates of suicide, addictions, unemployment, poverty, victimization and incarceration.

“Preventing violence against urban Aboriginal women is one area where Friendship Centres are making a big difference,” continues President Nielsen. “We deal with the underlying issues that force urban Aboriginal women into vulnerable situations, and will be supporting initiatives such as the Pickton Commission to make sure this kind of tragedy never happens again.”

Other services offered by BC’s 23 Friendship Centres include employment readiness programs; mental health, addiction and suicide prevention counselling; literacy and early childhood education courses; and support services for young families, abused women, and support to elders.

“Investing in Friendship Centres is a winning proposition,” says Paul Lacerte, Executive Director of the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. “Our programs focus on prevention, early intervention and support, and save taxpayers millions of dollars in the long-term.”

By way of example, Lacerte cites the fact that 53% of the children living in foster care in this Province are Aboriginal while Aboriginal peoples only account for 5% of the total BC population. Building capacity amongst urban Aboriginal people is the most cost effective way of building wellness and decreasing reliance on social services.

“People who use Friendship Centre programs have experienced increased literacy rates, increased labour market participation, and decreased incidents of family violence,” says Lacerte. “The downstream benefits of these successes include less strain on Social Services, Health and Justice budgets.”

In spite of the crucial, front-line role played by Friendship Centres, they have not had an increase to their provincial capacity funding in over 20 years. Presently, BC’s 23 Friendship Centres receive a total of $575,000 per year. When leaders from these centres gather in Victoria later this month, they’ll be asking the BC Government to increase this amount to $3.1 million in annualized funds.

In 2005, the BC Government established the New Relationship Trust, a $100 million capacity fund for on- reserve First Nations. While Friendship Centres unequivocally support ongoing capacity building and strategic investments in First Nations communities, it is equally important to invest in the service delivery capacity for the off-reserve population.

Susan Tatoosh is one leader who will be speaking out loudly for this funding increase. As the Executive Director of the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre located in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood, she knows first-hand the overwhelming challenges caused by chronic underfunding, as well as the incredible benefits provided by Friendship Centres.

“Every day, in urban communities throughout BC, we help to improve the quality of life for thousands of Aboriginal people living off-reserve,” says Tatoosh. “But we’re truly at the breaking point. Our Friendship Centres cannot continue to do our work without a sufficient long-term investment from the Province of British Columbia. We are well-positioned and ready to move forward as full partners with the Province in building a healthier future for Aboriginal people. ”