The Manitoba Association of Friendship Centres (MAC) said it’s working with community members to help establish a new friendship centre, even if a new location has to be found, after vandals destroyed the current location.
“We’re committed to there being a friendship centre in Winnipeg. We’re committed to assisting in the process of development or transition for that friendship centre and we’re committed to making sure that the services that are necessary are being provided to the Indigenous community in Winnipeg,” said MAC president David Gray via phone Monday.
“Winnipeg has the largest Indigenous community in Canada. It is unacceptable for it not to have a friendship centre that is functioning.”
The Indian and Metis Friendship Centre was founded in 1968 but was shut down last year after controversy with its board of directors.
In 2017, a new board of directors led by Norman Lagimodiere took over the centre. Lagimodiere and members on the board claim to be part of the American Indian Movement (AIM), a claim that was refuted by U.S AIM leader Clyde Bellecourt.
But the national and provincial friendship centre associations cut ties to the centre.
The centre was shut down last summer after losing it’s provincial gaming license.
James Favel, executive director for Bear Clan Patrol Inc., was working with the community to reopen the centre with a new board.
Patrol members discovered extensive damage to the centre during one of their patrols.
“That was a huge resource to our community. It was well-loved and used by many people in our community,” said Favel. “The social hall, the bingo hall, food bank, programming for youth, kookums had a sewing club…and it’s all destroyed now.”
A meeting is taking place in Winnipeg at the beginning of March with MAC to determine a plan for a new centre.
Favel believes there is too much damage done to the North End building to salvage it.
Toilets were ripped off the walls, copper wire was stripped throughout, there was water damage from burst pipes and some of the walls had holes in them.
“We’re going to have a conversation…with a group of locals here to see if we can’t re-establish the friendship centre somewhere else.”
Gray hopes working with a new board of directors will get a new centre open by 2020.
“We have to have certain fundamental pieces that show governance, community support, programming and financial accountability, which are the four cornerstones of all the centres in Manitoba,” he said.