June is Indigenous History Month — a time to celebrate the accomplishments of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people across Canada. It’s also a time to reflect on the history of our country and the path toward Reconciliation.
This year, we wanted to celebrate BC’s Friendship Centres for their work in supporting Indigenous communities. Friendship Centres are a vital part of the Reconciliation process, providing space for Indigenous people to connect with their culture, traditions, and history. As well, their diverse programs and services support the health and well-being of their wider communities.
We recently sat down with Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC) Executive Director Ron Rice (hereditary name Wush’q) and VNFC Director of Human Resources and Management Support Tanya Clarmont to highlight the important work of Friendship Centres in our communities.
The history of Friendship Centres in Canada.
Friendship Centres began appearing across Canada in the mid-1950s. They aimed to meet the needs of Indigenous people moving to cities from rural areas and reserves. Early Friendship Centres often focused on crisis management through poverty aid, addiction treatment, and mental health support. But, over time, they realized what people really needed was community connection.
In response to this, they began to shift their attention to the full spectrum to more diverse needs like shelter, financial literacy, and educational support. “We see ourselves as an arc of success. Not just focusing on the things that challenge us as people,” says Ron Rice.
Today, there are 25 Friendship Centres across BC and more than 100 in Canada. While each centre exists on traditional and often unceded lands, they are meeting grounds for diversity. Whether you are lək̓ʷəŋən, W̱SÁNEĆ, nêhiyawêwin, Métis, or simply a non-Indigenous person looking to learn, Friendship Centres offer respect and community for all.
“Friendship Centres are multi-cultural spaces for urban populations. This is a need for non-Indigenous people as well,” Ron says. “As we progress through Reconciliation, we should be blending our work in a way that makes sense for Canadian society. Friendship Centres will be a big part of that.”
Tanya adds, “We want people to understand that we are looking at the future in larger chunks than most people are. We are reaching out and building strong allies. We aren’t just what the community needs, but what they want.”
The Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC).
The Victoria Native Friendship Centre first opened its doors in 1970 with a focus on finding inclusive housing for Indigenous people. As it grew, it expanded its services to include education, employment support, and health and wellness programs.
Today, the VNFC has more than 125 employees and contractors, 11 departments, and 22 community programs. These include everything from nêhiyawêwin (Cree) language classes to traditional Séliš (Salish) cedar weaving. They also run the Siem Lelum (Séliš for “Respected House”) housing program, which provides 41 units of affordable housing to Indigenous families, Elders, and youth, alongside a vibrant community centre.
Walking the path toward Reconciliation.
Vancity is proud to support the Victoria Native Friendship Centre through our Shared Success program. To date, the program has donated more than $406 million to our members and communities. We’ve also provided annual grants and business coaching programs for VNFC’s Indigenous entrepreneurs.
In addition to our local work with Friendship Centres, Vancity invests in financial literacy services and small business loans aimed at building capacity in Indigenous communities. This includes providing tools for personal finance education and making financial services accessible, regardless of previous banking history. Our on-reserve housing loans provide traditional mortgage-like financing options. This empowers members of Indigenous communities to build or buy their own homes and create family wealth through homeownership.
This aside, we understand our work has only begun. Reconciliation is a journey and we are committed to walking this path with Indigenous people. Together, we can create a province that is stronger, equitable, and prosperous for everyone.
More ways to support Reconciliation efforts.
While celebrating Indigenous History Month is a great place to start, there are many things you can do year-round to support BC Friendship Centres and Reconciliation.
Here are some ideas:
- Become a member of your local Friendship Centre
- Attend events and workshops
- Volunteer your time or donate money (donate to the Victoria Native Friendship Centre here or here)
- Educate yourself and others about Indigenous peoples, history, and culture
- Support Indigenous-owned businesses
- Celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21st
- Use your voice to call for Reconciliation
- Bank with Vancity. Your deposits help us reinvest a portion of our profits into Indigenous communities through programs like Aboriginal BEST.