At Friendship Centres, Indigenous sole-parent mothers are being empowered to choose their own path.
The essence of community is supporting people’s successes and celebrating our individual and collective achievements. Whether we’re engaged in global and national communities or regional, cultural, or smaller communities rising out of necessity, the supports we give define us.
For Indigenous Peoples living in Ontario’s urban centres, the patchwork of available supports is drawn from multiple places across the community with varying degrees of access barriers. At local Indigenous Friendship Centres, however, members of the urban Indigenous communities find a hub of holistic, wrap-around supports that meet community members where they are and provide a path to self-determination through culture-based service delivery.
A home for Indigenous voices in urban communities
Executive Director, Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre & President, OFIFC
Located in urban areas around the province, the 29 member Friendship Centres of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC) are not-for-profit and charitable organizations mandated to support all urban Indigenous Peoples, regardless of status. In collaboration with local governments, non-profits, and private partners, Friendship Centres provide comprehensive support that lifts people up in a way that respects the fullness of their personal experience and Indigenous traditional ways of knowing and being.
“The great thing about a Friendship Centre is that you can come in as a person with one particular challenge and leave as part of a community, ” says Jennifer Dockstader, Executive Director of the Fort Erie Native Friendship Centre and President of OFIFC. “We’ll form a relationship with you and stay with you through all the cycles of your life. And while you’re at it, you’ll be connecting with Indigenous culture and Indigenous language.”
Celebrating Indigenous motherhood and building generational resilience
Executive Director, Dryden Native Friendship Centre
Motherhood is a critical opportunity for Indigenous women and families to become resilient and to break the cycle of intergenerational colonial trauma rooted in the legacy of residential schools and the ’60s and millennial scoop. In response to identified community needs, Friendship Centres came together to develop Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound, a Friendship Centre program that helps sole-parent Indigenous mothers to secure housing, access post-secondary education, receive childcare supports, access cultural supports, and obtain employment, improving their families’ prosperity.
“It’s a very empowering program and you can see the significant changes in these women over a period of four years,” says Cheryl Edwards, Executive Director of Dryden Native Friendship Centre.
Growing solutions and extending program reach
The success of the program has been emulated at seven Friendship Centres across the province. Graduates have gone on to achieve independent careers including as nurses, social workers, chefs, and community leaders, while remaining rooted in a supportive community.
As a pilot project, the Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound program must find sustainable funding and support. The Friendship Centres have no shortage of ideas about how to build upon its proven success but need to have adequate resources. It’s up to all of us to ensure that Ontario’s Friendship Centres have the support they need to continue providing Indigenous communities with informed solutions for urban Indigenous Peoples.