December 15, 2020

Friendship Centres provide essential support throughout the Covid-19 pandemic

As Canadians have shuttered into their homes during these last few months to ride out the waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) would like to acknowledge their member Friendship Centres and Provincial/Territorial Associations who have gone above and beyond to support their Indigenous communities.

Understanding the financial hardships felt by many Canadians these past few months, our Friendship Centres have been working around the clock to create food and cleaning supply hampers.

Figure 1:  A member of the Lloydminster Native Friendship Centre prepares weekly hampers for community members.

The Lloydminster Native Friendship Centre purchased supplies for 278 weekly grocery hampers and cleaning/sanitizing packages for their membership families and elders. They are extremely proud to announce that their hampers have reached 536 individuals. (see Figure 1) 

Despite our necessity to stay physically distanced from one another, many Friendship Centres have expanded their services–or created new positions entirely–so that they can be offered remotely.

The Rocky Native Friendship Centre Society created two new online support worker positions aimed at providing training for community members on how to access different technology platforms such as Zoom. For many Friendship Centres, video calls have become the new norm for connecting with clients. (see Figure 2)

Social media platforms have also become vital tools that have allowed Friendship Centres to stay connected with their community during the pandemic. Laurianne Petiquay, executive director of the Centre d'amitié autochtone La Tuque, says that they “have made more use of their social networks these past few months and have been able to reach many new members!”

However, as great as virtual connections can be, the reality is that not all community members have access to systems that allow them to connect technology.

“An important first step for connecting virtually with our community,” said Jannah Kohlman, executive director of the Nawican Friendship Centre, “was to identify clients who do not have access to these means.”

“Through federal funding, we were able to purchase technology–phone, laptops, tablets–for those in dire need of support during isolation to prevent relapsing and encourage social interaction through these other means,” continued Kohlman.

Despite the success found in these virtual connections, the temporary shutdown of transportation services offered by many Friendship Centres, has been very difficult for our elders as it has resulted in both physical and social isolation.

“Some of our elders utilize these services regularly so that they can stay connected with family, attend work opportunities and medical appointments,” said Anna Zanella, executive director of the Friendship House Association of Prince Rupert.

Figure 2: Carlee EaglePlume, youth coordinator from the Miywasin Friendship Centre, leads an online crafting class for youth over Zoom.
Miywasin Friendship Centre

Thankfully, this shutdown did not last too long and the Friendship House Association of Prince Rupert were thrilled when they were finally able to re-open their transportation services along the Highway 16 Corridor to their elders.

“It has been our great pleasure to meet with our elders, who remain upbeat and continue to take everything in stride,” continues Zanella. “They are truly an inspiration!”

This pandemic has highlighted the importance of our Friendship Centres in providing programs that not only assist members physical, but their mental well-being as well.

The Port Alberni Friendship Centre have initiated a new program called, Switchback, which consists of teachings around self-awareness, dealing with internal and external conflict, identifying and coming to terms with past trauma, and recognizing triggers and what to do with those feelings.

“We felt that students really needed to learn coping and self-esteem strategies,” said Cyndi Stevens, executive director of the Port Alberni Friendship Centre. “This program teaches so much–life skills, increases their confidence and self-esteem, and more importantly, it reconnects the youth,” continued Stevens.

Another key component of the program includes inviting elders to connect with the group virtually in order to provide the younger generation with wisdom, encouragement, and love.

And although many Friendship Centres were forced to temporarily close, not a minute was wasted as a few Friendship Centres, such as the Wachiay Friendship Centre, used this time to complete renovations that will better serve their community.

At the Wachiay Studio Inc.–an enterprise that promotes Indigenous art and culture by providing affordable printing services to Aboriginal artists, “we have completely removed the offices, which will allow more room for our new presses and dryer,” said Michael Colclough, executive director of the Wachiay Friendship Centre Society.

And we cannot forget about having a little fun! Friendship Centres have enjoyed organizing many different crafting activities for their community members over these last few months. The Rocky Native Friendship Centre Society have delivered several different crafting kits to community members in varying themes such as, beading, tobacco or mint planting, birdhouses, and more! The Nawican Friendship Centre organized a Covid-19 mask decorating concert for their youth! (see Figure 3)

Figure 3: Youth from the Nawican Friendship Centre show of the masks that they created.
Nawican Friendship Centre

Many Friendship Centres have also used this time to develop creative outdoor programming activities. At a time where our stress levels are at an all-time high, connecting back with Mother Earth and the land can be extremely beneficial.

The Miywasin Friendship Centre had a lot of fun organizing physically distanced programming, which have allowed community members to gather in small numbers for activities such as medicine picking and an Indigenous history scavenger hunt across Medicine Hat! (see Figure 4)

However, despite the success that many Friendship Centres have been able to achieve during these last few months, the stark reality remains that Covid-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future and many are worried about what the next few months will bring.

Immediate concerns felt by my many Friendship Centres are regarding the ongoing physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of their community members and staff–many who have been working overtime these past few months.

At a time like this, volunteers are more important than ever! Wondering how you can help? Touch base with your local Friendship Centre to see how you can be of assistance! We are all in this together!

Figure 4: A youth participates in an outdoor scavenger hunt organized by the Miywasin Friendship Centre.

Miywasin Friendship Centre (2)