A friend in need
NWT Friendship Centres brace for closure

Terry Halifax
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (May 08/00) - NWT friendship centres are facing closure unless new sources of revenue are found.

Executive director Chuck Larocque and executive members from around the territories met in Yellowknife April 29-30, to discuss possible alternatives to closing the doors of the centres.

"We're at the point now, where, without any outside financial assistance, we anticipate closing our office in early June," Larocque said.

The eight centres are currently funded through the federal government, but Larocque said the $70,000 annually has not been enough to maintain the needs of the office. Larocque said the NWT Council of Friendship Centres (NWTCFC) has already received an advance on this year's payment from the national office, just to get them through their fiscal year-end.

Larocque said the $75,000-$100,000 the council needs is "a drop in the bucket," compared to some of the money squandered by the GNWT.

"We've seen a lot of bad expenditures made by government that represent a hell of a lot more than what we're asking for, for the kind of results and achievements that friendship centres have already had," he said.

The centres have been active in youth programs throughout the territory, as well as bringing in millions in other programs that otherwise would not be here, Larocque said.

"Over the past two years we've brought in aboriginal urban initiatives programs, which brought in about $3 million worth of economic development projects to the NWT," he said.

As well, the group has developed a network of Web sites to link all the centres. The council recommended government use the network to relay information, as well as use the NWTCFC to deliver programs and services through a partnership agreement.

"If you can't come up with cash or a cheque, there are other options we could look at," he said. "We're waiting to form a partnership with the territorial government and be able to share resources and information."

Larocque said other alternatives beyond direct financial support might include:

contributed office space, employee secondment, translation and language services, wage subsidies, training dollars and youth programming dollars.

Barry Greenland, president of Ingamo Hall Friendship Centre and past president of the NWTCFC, said the council has been virtually ignored by the GNWT.

"It's frustrating when we go to government and (former finance minister) John Todd says, 'If you've come here for money, we have nothing to offer,'" Greenland said. "I don't mean to be negative, but I'd sure hate to see the doors of NWTCFC close."

Tina McNeil, vice- president of Fort Smith's Uncle Gabe's Friendship Centre, suggested the government use the experience and expertise already available through the centres.

"Your vision is our vision," McNeil said to the government representation. "We have opened our doors to everybody aboriginal and non-aboriginal. Why start your programs from scratch? Why not just form a partnership with us?"

"We've been doing this for years and years and years. If we have the same vision why can't we share that vision?" she said.

Yellowknife South MLA, Brendan Bell was the only MLA to accept the invitation to the meeting. Premier Stephen Kakfwi sent executive secretary John Bayly as his representative. Bayly said he was impressed with the group's options to direct funding, but reminded the council of the territorial debt situation.

"As finance minster Handley says, the debt wall is looming," Bayly said. "It's only a matter of time before it hits what the limit is as set out in the formula."

Bayly said the GNWT is currently seeking a "large infusion of money" from the federal government on the basis of future economic growth in the territory, but until that happens, he says the budget will barely support current programs.