Some native friendship centres in northeastern Ontario say the funding they receive from the federal government hasn’t increased in decades, despite a rising demand for services.
As the number of First Nations people living in northern cities continues to grow, so too does the need for social services.
One night each week, the N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre in downtown Sudbury opens its doors and invites the public in for moose meat soup and bannock.
A homelessness support worker said the community meal plays an important cultural role.
“It’s like feeding our spirit with a lot of positiveness,” Darren McGregor said.
But friendship centres now provide far more than culture to the thousands of First Nations who live in cities, as they are social service agencies that provide legal assistance and job search help. Some centres even have medical clinics.
The executive director of the N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre said her centre is doing more, but its core funding from the federal government hasn’t increased in decades.
“What we’re doing as an organization has substantially increased,” Marie Measwagie said. “I don’t know their reasoning for why they can’t increase our funding.”
Measwagie said in an era of budget cuts she hopes the centre holds on to the money it gets now — $140,000 in core funding.
More work, less money
More than an hour's drive east of Sudbury, the program manager of the North Bay Indian Friendship Centre said the centre is seeing a similar trend.
The core funding for that facility has been frozen at $140,000, but Nancy Potvin said the centre continues to expand its services to meet the demand from a rapidly growing off-reserve population.
She said the budget crunch has forced the friendship centre to pay lower salaries, compared to other agencies that do the same work.
“I think they’re going to have to realize that as the population increases, there’s going to be a larger demand on us,” she said.
“We can’t do it without the money.”
Aboriginal Affairs Canada did not respond to CBC’s request to explain the friendship centre funding freeze.