As I said earlier I would publish this summary overview and it gives me great please to do so; here it is -
Association of Friendship Centers’ of Canada
Overview of 37th Annual Convention, Quebec City July 22 to 25, 2008
I felt honored with being given the opportunity to attend the above on behalf of Sik-ooh-kotoki Friendship Center, Lethbridge along with President Roland Cotton and Financial Advisor, Jim Short. Because of duties on the National Board Roland went a day before us and Jim and I flew out on July 22nd. The weather was more on the damp side except for the last day which had the sun shining and since it was in the middle of Quebec’s 400th Anniversary Celebrations we took in the opportunity to see the fireworks display on Wednesday, July 23. It was the most spectacular any of us saw to date. As we all agree such a milestone is a great achievement however, we should also remember the even greater achievement in that Aboriginals celebrated their same milestone thousands of years ago which reminds me of the graciousness of all speakers recognizing and thanking Quebec city and the Huron Wendat Indians for hosting us on their territory. Roland was waiting anxiously with Stetsons for us as we arrived in the hotel. I had to miss the first-time attendees session and we just had enough time to check in, drop our luggage and quickly return for the opening. The Alberta delegation wore Calgary Stampede Stetsons and what would a conference be without availability of trinket and clothing booths.
The official opening of the conference commenced at 6pm. Right-away I was impressed with arrangements for headphones. The guys in charge had it down pat; if you wanted same you exchanged your driver’s license for it. The booth for same was set-up inside the main doors in the conference room and all one had to do was exchange your driver’s license which was returned when you returned the set. It was intriguing to watch the speed with which they worked. Also, every session started and finished on time. Sure blows out the window any stereotypical thinking one might have with respect to “Aboriginal time”. Also, they accommodated with ease those needing to vent frustrations about bureaucracy and the residential schools resulting in it appearing as though adequate catharsis was allowed yet smoothly returning to the agenda each time. It was the best organized meeting I’ve seen in a long time. Keep it up guys!
Elder Dominique Rankin led prayers each morning recognizing the Great Spirit Creator and expressing appreciation for the bountifulness of earth and mother-nature. The conference Chairperson, Vera Pawis Tabobondung did a super job chairing as did those giving reports on their area of responsibility. Copies of all reports were included in the Conference Manual. For everyone’s benefit the goals and objective of Friendship Centers and the conference were summarized as reflected in promotion of equity and social justice for Urban Aboriginals. Various dignitaries, i.e. MNA, City etc. brought wishes from their respective posts. Areas reported on included the work of the Women’s Commission, Senators and Youth as well as each Province. A common emphasis was the need for leadership and that each needed to take responsibility for being the change that they want as well as the need to respect nature. Provincial Reports consisted of the usual progress and highlights over the year. Resolutions were dealt with appropriately including a report on the issue of Two Spirited’ (Homosexual oriented) people. Apparently it generated heated discussion last year.
Day two commenced with moving tributes of remembrance for two respected Senators that passed on to the spirit world during the year – Walter Schoenthal and Maurice Blondeau. Both Senators had decades of service and hours to their credit and are seen as most worthy of emulation. This was followed by presentation of the Financial Statement for the year and which was approved. The constraint presented by inadequate funding was noted. A new Auditor for the next three years was chosen. Apparently, funding doesn’t allow for expansion, thus necessitating waits by new locations wanting centers that must demonstrate viability on a volunteer basis before consideration for assistance freed from others not utilizing all their funding. It was also noted that there is no increase in funding for Aboriginal Apprenticeship programs.
Friendship Centers are encouraged to utilize elders and to use education and culturally appropriate programming. The need to use and put forward applications for the National Achievement Awards and Centers are encouraged to respect and formalize relationships they take seriously as well as to encourage the use of educational bursaries. The continuing issue of disenfranchisement of Aboriginal families from benefits as a result of member volunteering to serve in Canada’s armed forces was also raised and noted. It was noted more than once that the Federal Government needs to respond with more than money to back up the recent apology to those who suffered as a result of the Residential Schools and hopes were expressed for follow-through on the Kelowna Accord. We also heard from the Assistant Commissioner for RCMP Complaints Committee and we were assured of its independence, impartiality and process. People are encouraged to file complaints if issues arise.
Peter Dinsdale, National Executive Director updated us on policy and Research Initiatives and it was noted that of the 250,000 homeless Canadians about 80,000 are Aboriginal and efforts to deal with the homeless were lauded though it was also noted that discrimination persists to varying degrees. The shared model of Governance was lauded and the process which deferred voting to next day allowed time for participants to familiarize with nominees for Board and Executive positions. The necessity for nonalignment - independence of those elected at any board level was emphasized.
Day 3 saw a heated discussion with respect to the new secure ‘Certificate of Indian Status’ card to replace the old one in use for a number of years. Pilot projects were done in a couple of locations across the country and it is hoped to commence the project in September. Laptops will facilitate home visitation to register the incapacitated and the card will be in compliance with the North American Security and Prosperity Agreement. The Retail Association of Canada has endorsed it and discussions are underway with Pharmacy organizations. The card will be provided at no cost to the individual and once implemented in January or March will be accepted in place of a passport on entering the US. Although there was pressure for similar arrangement with other countries, there’s no assurance that such is possible because of international passport requirements. The evening concluded with us walking to the Citadel ramparts where we were treated to a banquet and Huron-Wendat traditional dance ceremonies. The ground was soaked but we were dry under canvas.
Questions had been raised ahead of time as a result of various Crown Ministers asking if Friendship Centers felt appropriately placed under Culture versus Indian Affairs and participants were prepared vote against any attempt to reposition them under INAC. However we were assured that there is no such move afloat. The major limitations noted were that the Indian Act does not deal with Aboriginals living off reservations and the Kelowna Accord does not deal with Metis. The importance of capacity-building and relationships was emphasized and lots of feedback was provided on various issues especially the lack of adequate funding for Friendship Centers.
In evaluation, as I said earlier, I was most impressed with the organization and smoothness of the conference and I felt included and appreciated in accord with one of the emphases of inclusion. Right-away, I was impressed with the organization, precision and timing as well as with the linguistic abilities of organizers and speakers. All spoke fluently in at least three languages; French, English and that of their tribe and alternating paragraphs with ease in all three as we heard the translations on our headsets. I felt assured the organization is in good hands, moving in a positive direction and I believe they deserve every support we can give since as I have often said “if any segment of community looks bad it is a reflection on all of us”. I wish and highly recommend that every member should take such opportunity to attend if possible and I express sincere appreciation for what I consider was an honor of a lifetime. And, yes; I got a couple souvenirs for my family. Gedomatsen.
Summarized by; Michael Cormican, Sik-ooh-kotoki Board, Lethbridge