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Urban natives plead for more funds


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Grace Elliott Nielsen leads a song with her drum as aboriginal friendship centre representatives arrive at the B.C. legislature for meetings with government officials.

Tom Fletcher/Black Press
By Tom Fletcher – BC Local News
Published: October 27, 2010 4:00 PM
Updated: October 27, 2010 4:34 PM

VICTORIA – Representatives of B.C.’s 23 aboriginal friendship centres say they can’t keep serving more people with less money, as a booming population of young people continues to stream from reserves to cities and towns.

The B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres has a meeting scheduled Thursday with Barry Penner, who was appointed aboriginal relations minister this week. They say B.C.’s urban native population has increased by 33 per cent in the past 10 years, and 60 per cent of all aboriginals in B.C. now live off reserve.

The association estimates that two thirds of of urban natives are aged 25 or younger. Friendship centres also receive $2.9 million annually from the federal government to deliver programs such as employment readiness, mental health, addiction, suicide prevention and early childhood education.

Association president Grace Elliott Nielsen said the centres saw a 17 per cent decrease in their provincial funding this year, and have not had an increase in 20 years.

“We are asking the government to provide capacity funding to our centres, because we are at the breaking point,” Nielsen said at a news conference in front of the legislature Tuesday.

Penner said in an interview the direct provincial funding for friendship centres was reduced along with other services when government revenues dropped sharply last year. Direct ministry funding climbed from $100,000 in 2004-05 to $395,000 in 2008-09, before declining to $300,000 last year and $230,000 this year.

Friendship centres also receive investment interest from the province’s First Citizens Fund, which was doubled in 2001 and paid them $720,000 a year until this year. It dropped to $612,000 because of lower investment yields, not a decision by government to reduce funding, Penner said.

Friendship centres are located in Courtenay, Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Duncan, Victoria, Lillooet, Merritt, Vancouver, Mission, Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon, Kamloops, Williams Lake, Quesnel, Prince George, Smithers, Terrace, Prince Rupert, Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, Fort St. John and Fort Nelson.

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