Spirits of Friendship

The Friendship Centre Movement has been shaped over a period of 60 years by Indigenous leaders in communities across Canada. These dedicated Indigenous people have greatly contributed to the success and growth of today’s Friendship Centre Movement. These are the stories of Friendship Centre trailblazers, or our Spirits of Friendship. We are honoured to have known them and privileged to have worked with them and to be a part of their legacy.

If you think someone should be added to this list, please send an e-mail to communications@nafc.ca with a short bio, specifically detailing their involvement in the Friendship Centre Movement.


Xavier Michon 1920 – 1987

Michon was known to many as the Grandfather of the Friendship Centre Movement. He was a lifetime member of the NAFC and was honoured for his early efforts in helping to establish the NAFC and the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres (OFIFC). Michon was also the founding father of the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre. We are so grateful to have known him, and for what he contributed to our community.

Ray Chambers 1945 – 2006

With over fifteen years of dedicated service, Chambers embodied the spirit of the Friendship Centre Movement. He believed in the work of Friendship Centres and in the people working for and utilizing its services. Chambers inspired his staff, colleagues and fought for those in Friendship Centres across Alberta and the country. Throughout his life, his work and passion inspired the lives of many people and made everyone feel like they belonged.

Peter Dubois 1927 – 2002

Dubois was known across Canada as a tireless crusader for First Nations rights and a minister of harmony between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. He was deeply involved locally, provincially and nationally in promoting social and educational opportunities for Indigenous peoples and, providing programming models for future generations of Indigenous peoples across Canada. Dubois was a founding trailblazer of the local Friendship Centre Movement in Alberta and we are so grateful for all his contributions. 

Georgina Donald 1932 – 2006

Donald worked at the Canadian Native Friendship Centre for 32 years; she started as a volunteer two days a week, then became the Referral Worker, before being promoted as Assistant Executive Director and Executive Director and then requesting the position of Social Programs Director. Through her involvement at the Canadian Native Friendship Centre, she helped promote and implement numerous social and recreational programs. Through it all, Métis square dancing and jigging were always at the core of the Centre’s activities, early on she made sure her children were just as involved as she. Donald’s impact on the Friendship Centre Movement, not only in Edmonton but across the country, is still felt today.

Maurice Joseph (Moe) Blondeau 1932 – 2008

Blondeau served as the Provincial Coordinator for the Saskatchewan Association of Friendship Centres, on the Executive and Board of the NAFC, Executive Director of the Saskatoon Indian & Métis Friendship Centre and then as a Senator for the NAFC. His sobriety was very important to him and he always made the time to listen and encourage those who needed support. He was a great listener but would also have a wonderful story to tell that related to whatever you were discussing, Blondeau is greatly missed.

Walter Raymond Joseph Schoenthal 1936 – 2007

Schoenthal was a founding member of the NAFC and the Saskatchewan Association of Friendship Centres and served as the Executive Director of the Regina Friendship Centre for years. After his retirement, he was appointed to the Senate of the NAFC and served for many years. Throughout his life, he was deeply committed to his work and involvement with the Friendship Centre Movement.

Amy Clemons 1906 – 1989

Clemons was one of the original staff members of the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre in Winnipeg and was a perennial driving force behind the Friendship Centre Movement in Selkirk, Manitoba. A Friendship Centre trailblazer, Clemons was the Selkirk Friendship Centre’s first Executive Director and helped establish the society from infancy to stability until her retirement in 1973. She always thought one of the most important functions of the Friendship Centre was to provide a place for urban Indigenous people to gather.

Elsie Bear 1921 – 2002

Bear was one of the Selkirk Friendship Centre’s most honoured members. She left her mark for life on the organization, her fellow volunteers, the community, and the many Indigenous people she worked so diligently for. Upon her retirement from the Selkirk Friendship Centre, she quickly became involved with the Manitoba Association of Friendship Centres, a Senator for the NAFC and the Manitoba Metis Federation to name a few. Bear attended every NAFC Annual General Meeting until illness prevented her from doing so. She will be remembered as an instrumental trailblazer in the Friendship Centre Movement.

Winston Menard 1942 – 2008

President of the Swan River Friendship Centre for 25 years, a feat which was notably unheard of in the Friendship Centre Movement right across Canada, Menard also served as the provincial board member of the Manitoba Association of Friendship Centres. He was a humble man of humble means who never sought fortune or fame but instead dedicated his life to improving the quality of life for Indigenous people in the community of Swan River. He made a lasting and meaningful contribution through his many years of volunteer service in the Friendship Centre Movement and that work will never be forgotten.

Luverna Delores (Delo) Clause 1939 – 2004

Much of her life was spent volunteering her time and energy to improve the quality of life for Indigenous people. With a smile on her face, Clause would hurry from one community activity or meeting to another. She had a long and dedicated service to the Friendship Centre Movement. She lived her final years in Fort Erie, Ontario and was involved in many organizations – the Fort Erie Friendship Centre; OFIFC, and the NAFC to name a few. One of her biggest accomplishments was obtaining her high school diploma through the Friendship Centre’s Alternative Secondary School Program. Her laughter, love and wisdom continue to echo – she is forever missed by those who were fortunate enough to have worked with or known her.

Delia Gray 1917 – 1999

Each year, the Métis Nation of Alberta pays tribute to Gray by hosting the Delia Gray Memorial Gala. She was an active member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, the Canadian Native Friendship Centre, and a Senator for the NAFC to name a few. Gray ran weekly square dances at the Friendship Centre and enjoyed listening to music. She always encouraged young people to do their best and complimented them not only on their achievements but also on their efforts. She would provide them with the wisdom not to give up and try harder the next time; Gray will always be remembered and forever missed.

Dave Parker 1915 – 2000

Parker started with the Friendship Centre Movement in the mid to late seventies after returning to the North Okanagan and beginning a life of sobriety. He became the Alcohol and Drug Counsellor at the Kelowna Friendship Centre, wrote several articles for their newsletter and branched out to the First Nations Friendship Centre (formerly United Native Friendship Centre). Parker was a believer in the future of the Friendship Centre Movement, he was a NAFC Senator and is missed by the Friendship Centre Movement, he is remembered as our “Storytelling Senator.”

Bill Messenger 1941 – 2001

“Uncle Bill” as he was affectionately known in the Ontario Friendship Centre Movement, was appointed to the NAFC Senate at the 32nd Annual General Meeting. He was an active member of the Board of Directors for the Can-Am Indian Friendship Centre, served three consecutive terms on the Executive Committee of the OFIFC and was appointed as the OFIFC representative to the NAFC. He was a gentle warrior who had great commitment and dedication to Indigenous people, his family, the Friendship Centre Movement and the many other organizations he was involved with.

Tom Eagle 1932 – 2009

He was best known locally for his involvement with the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre where he was the Executive Director (on two separate occasions). Eagle also served as Chairperson for the NT/NU Council of Friendship Centres and was instrumental in the development of Friendship Centres across the north. Before retiring from the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre in 2002, one goal remained; Eagle convinced the City of Yellowknife to set aside land on 49th Street so the Friendship Centre could be re-built in a bigger facility. He will always be remembered or his storytelling and conversation skills, and the impact he had in the North.

Joseph Morrison 1941 – 2012

Joseph Morrison dedicated his life to family, community, and nation, promoting self respect, cultural understanding and the pursuit of education. He was committed to living the good life, or “Biimaadiziwin”, and keeping the Anishinaabe language and culture alive.

Joseph was raised by his parents at Naongashing. He attended school at Cecilia Jaffrey and Sioux Narrows Public School. He set out in the world at an early age earning his living as a guide and labourer. He enlisted in the Canadian army when he was 17 serving with the Queen's Own Rifles from 1959-62 in Calgary and Germany. He often told young people how the service taught him discipline and gave him a sense of dignity.

He also worked as a bookkeeper, Native Street Patrol supervisor, Metis housing coordinator, and Executive Director of friendship centres in Kenora and Fort Frances. In 1989, Joseph became the first Justice of Peace in Ontario to be sworn in with an eagle feather  and became known and respected as “Judge Joe” throughout Northwestern Ontario until his retirement in 2007.

In the 1970s, Joseph found sobriety and spiritual strength through the Lake of the Woods Pow-wow Club and began a lifelong journey he shared with many others, reclaiming respect for Anishinaabe culture. He was a familiar figure at pow-wows as keeper of “Wakaapiness” drum, helping with ceremonies, flag-raising and dancing with other Native veterans.

Pagwaakiinen also acted as an Elder for numerous groups and gatherings. In recent years he was called upon to lead the Native ceremonies for the Kenora Remembrance Day services. As well as serving with Aboriginal Friendship Centres at local, provincial and national levels for four decades, Joseph was also a member of the National Aboriginal Corrections Advisory Committee, the Board of Directors of the Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services Corporation and the Elders council for the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. 

The Joseph Morrison Legacy Fund offers a bursary to Aboriginal students in need who exemplify the values and dedication of the late Justice and Elder Joseph Donald Morrison.  Joseph devoted his life to family, community and nation, promoting cultural understanding and lifelong learning. He encouraged young people along the way to be strong and proud as Aboriginal peoples, to show respect and care for themselves and others. The bursary, established on Mr. Morrison’s passing in 2012, supports Aboriginal youth who have overcome adversity to achieve their goals toward a better life.

Margaret Mary Richard 1940 – 2010

Richard was involved in many local, provincial, federal and national boards and committees. She was a Senator for the NAFC, President of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, President of the Indigenous Women’s Collective, Executive Director of the Indian & Metis Friendship Centre and Executive Director of the Manitoba Association of Native Languages. Her greatest accomplishments and joy came from her granddaughter Ashley, son Gerry, family and dear friends who were often put to work to help her help others. There was no act of kindness too small or too big for Richard to tackle and no limit to what she would do for her community. Her kindness, compassion, and dedication are greatly missed.

Elbert Chartrand 1952 – 2012

Chartrand dedicated his life and career to bettering the lives of his people, he did a lot of this through his work at the Swan River Friendship Centre for 30 years (29 of those spent as Executive Director). While representing his regional interests through both the Manitoba Metis Federation and Friendship Centre Movement, Chartrand was a statesman at the provincial and national levels. Always quick with a joke, a smile or a story, Chartrand was an everyday hero, committed to treating everyone he met with respect.

Melodie Wilton 1949 – 2012

Wilton was a highly esteemed supporter of the Friendship Centre movement locally, provincially and nationally. She was Executive Director of the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre and passionate about supporting and bettering the Indigenous community. Wilton always had a smile on her face and had an innate willingness to listen. She was a very special lady that is greatly missed.

Nelson Kenneth Mayer 1955 – 2016

Mayer got involved with the Friendship Centre Movement as a young man and spent four decades as a force of change for urban Indigenous people. He served time as NAFC President and Vice-President, served on the Board of Directors for the Manitoba Association of Friendship Centres in the capacity of President and Vice-President. He was also the Executive Director of the Manitoba Association of Friendship Centres before taking on the same role at the Alberta Native Friendship Centres Association. Everyone who worked with Mayer loved him, his fierce and tireless work for urban Indigenous people and his willingness to share his knowledge will never be forgotten.

Perry Benoit 1969 – 2017

Benoit worked for the NAFC for 20 years in both programs and finance where he did his job with pride and integrity. He always went above and beyond to ensure that Centres were supported and paid special attention to the needs of the AYC, Board of Directors, and Senators. The NAFC Annual Meeting was always one of the highlights of Benoit's year. Everyone who got to know Benoit always spoke of how much of a pleasure it was to be in his company. 

Jaynane Burning-Fields 1946 – 2017

Burning-Fields began her career with the Friendship Centre Movement over 30 years ago as an invaluable employee with the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, and more recently as the Executive Director of the Niagara Regional Friendship Centre, and on the NAFC’s board of directors. Burning-Fields contributions over the years have helped to strengthen and shape the Friendship Centre Movement, not only in Niagara but across the province; she is missed by all those who knew her.

Sherman Maness 1949 – 2017

Maness got involved in Friendship Centres through the Odawa Native Friendship Centre in Ottawa which led him to be on the Board of Directors of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres. There he served first as Vice-President and later President. This work brought Maness to represent the OFIFC on the NAFCs Board. He is fondly remembered by his many nieces, nephews, cousins, and all those who got to know him. He taught those around him to care for, support, honour and respect Indigenous cultures and traditions.