Last week, the Aboriginal Sustainability Project hosted McGill’s second annual Aboriginal Awareness Week (AAW) in collaboration with the McGill First Peoples’ House and the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal (NFCM) – an organization that nearly closed last spring due to funding issues within its governance structure.
One of many Friendship Centres across Canada, the NFCM provides a variety of health and social services for Montreal’s native community.
According to NFCM Director Brett Pineau, funding for Friendship Centres is provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage and administered by the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) with assistance from provincial and territorial associations such as the Regroupement des centres d’amitié autochtones du Québec (RCAAQ).
Pineau explained that the NAFC and RCAAQ, who allocate federal funding to the Centre, had not been following the criteria outlined in the Aboriginal Friendship Centre Program (AFCP) guidelines.
In April 2011, the Centre requested a dispute resolution process to deal with these issues, but the provincial association refused to provide a representative, Pineau told The Daily.
“There is a serious structural flaw within the program itself, within the administration of this program,” he said. “In our opinion, the more layers that are involved in the administration of these federal programs, the higher the increased potential for…program irregularities or management inconsistencies with the established norms.”
In mid-September, after the NFCM had “exhausted most avenues of diplomacy within the provincial and national associations,” it alerted federal funding authorities of the program’s irregularities, according to Pineau.
Because of the Centre’s decision to notify the Department of Canadian Heritage, the RCAAQ “elected to suspend [the NFCM’s] provincial membership and then recommend to the national association suspension of all core funding for that year and all years beyond,” Pineau told The Daily.
According to the RCAAQ’s website, however, the termination of membership was “the consequence of a decision by the NFCM to move away from the mission of a Friendship Centre to become a first-line services centre for the homeless clientele.”
“Their story keeps changing. It changed three times already,” Pineau responded. “First of all, they said that we terminated a special agreement…which expired in 2010. According to us, that was legally impossible to cancel an agreement that already expired on paper.”
Regarding the RCAAQ’s accusation that the NFCM was no longer providing services for the entire native community – and thus not fulfilling its role as a Friendship Centre, Pineau said that there are many different native organizations in Montreal that administer specialized services, such as the First Nations Human Resources Development Commission.
“There are 120 Friendship Centres across Canada, each grounded in communities of varying sizes, with varying social characteristics…and each Centre adapts to its particular set of circumstances and context. The definition of a Friendship Centre is deliberately broad-based in order for this adaption to occur,” he added.
Pineau told The Daily that an unnamed member of the RCAAQ’s Board of Directors – which is composed of unelected representatives from various Friendship Centers in Quebec – told him that the directors redistributed the funding that would have gone to the NFCM themselves, leaving a portion to start up a new Friendship Centre in the city.
“There is certainly a perceived conflict of interest, in terms of a board of directors making a decision to reallocate funding to themselves,” said Pineau.
NFCM representatives will meet with the NAFC Board of Directors in October.
“This will be our last effort within the [Friendship Centre] movement itself,” said Pineau.
Access to land and resources
The NFCM is not the only Aboriginal group struggling to meet its needs.
In his keynote speech last Monday, Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Ghislain Picard, highlighted the key issues of land and resources.
Picard explained that the land reserved for First Nations is limited, and that the First Nations often lack a fair share of natural resources. If access to land and resources were improved, First Nations would be better equipped to achieve economic prosperity.
Picard said that over twenty chiefs from various Nations in Quebec planned to hold a summit with the provincial government in August within one hundred days of the provincial elections to discuss land and resources issues.
“The next government will have thirty days to respond […] the clock is ticking,” Picard said.
“It’s going to be up to us to determine what will happen after that.”