Friendship centres mark milestone

Last weekend B.C.’s friendship centres celebrated 40 years.

Last weekend BC’s friendship centres celebrated 40 years.

One hundred delegates from the province’s 25 friendship centres, along with aboriginal youth and elders met at the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres AGM in Nanaimo on July 7.

Cariboo Friendship Society’s executive director Rosanna McGregor attended and says aside from regular AGM business the highlights included looking at the Ministry of Children and Family Development operational and strategic direction plan.

“I sit on a number of working and reporting groups that are very involved in what’s happening with aboriginal children and families,” McGregor says.

“It ties into everything we have at the friendship centre, all the way from birth at Pregnancy Outreach through Little Moccasins Learning Centre, to mental health for aboriginal youth and children who witness abuse.”

McGregor will celebrate a personal milestone later this month.

July 23 marks 23 years of working at the Cariboo Friendship Centre.

McGregor says 70 per cent of the First Nations community is living off-reserve and predominantly friendship centres are providing services to those individuals.

In Williams Lake there are 90 staff members offering 26 different social programs.

“We have one of the largest  centres in the province. We’re doing housing and emergency shelter, we’re focusing on families and healthy lifestyles, as most friendship centres do. We don’t differ in the services that we provide,” she explains.

Elders across the province are preparing to attend the 36th Annual Elders Gathering, taking place in Abbotsford July 10 to 12, and youth in communities are working on educational and employment opportunities.

“We have an aboriginal sexual abuse prevention program and ending violence against aboriginal women and girls program and have a position paper that we’ve put together on those particular issues. We have a lot of kids in the Lower Mainland,” McGregor says, adding the worry is about sexual abuse and how youths are doing when they’re on the streets.

Friendship centres try to get healthy peers and elders to work with youths to help build their self esteem and be aware that there are some safe havens to go to find help when they’re ready.

“A lot of times, kids on the streets are dealing with mental health and addictions issues. Any kind of positive intervention is a good thing.”

In the fall friendship centres launched a provincial initiative, the Moosehide Campaign, where men have pinned pieces of moosehide to their shirts.

“People ask why they’re wearing it and it kicks off a conversation about what aboriginal men are doing to end violence against women and children. It’s an awareness campaign.”

At the AGM some Nisga’a elders explained how spruce bows were traditionally used to cleanse people.

“Years ago when we didn’t have counsellors … family members and groups of people would come together and try to brush evil spirits off an individual,” McGregor adds.

The public ritual would make people accountable because everyone gathered around was aware that something negative had happened so they were helping to cleanse away those negative feelings and behaviours.

Friendship centres are open to everyone in the community, McGregor says.

“I want to be very clear that friendship centre programs are open to everyone. Pregnancy outreach is an example of a great program that’s open to everyone. We don’t want people to think that our programs are only open to First Nations people. We’re doing economic development and all sorts of things to integrate ourselves into the community, and be supporters of the community as well.”