October 31, 1999 Halifax Herald

Micmac Native Friendship Centre: 26 years of vital service

During the 1950s, large numbers of First Nations Peoples began migrating to urban centres. Because of the negative transition problems that most were encountering, a plan to establish urban Native Friendship Centres was formulated. It was one of the few times in history that the federal government, acting in partnership with First Nations Peoples, searched for a proactive way to help Natives deal with the onerous task of adjusting themselves to a foreign social environment.

And make no mistake, the adjustment problems that Natives then faced when moving to an alien non-Native society, and still face to a large degree, were intimidating and overwhelming: the language, culture and values are different, and the racist discrimination encountered is widespread and demeaning. From my own youthful experience, I can relate that it is truly a traumatic experience to come to grips with the fact that your own country is, in every respect, as foreign to you as a country located overseas.

At the end of the 1950s, with the opening of Centres in Vancouver and Winnipeg, the Friendship Centre dream was a reality. These provided the prototypes for future Centres across the country. Halifax's Micmac Native Friendship Centre opened its Harris Street doors on September 17, 1973. Since then it has moved twice: in January 1977 to a Brunswick Street address and on November 19, 1984, to its current location, 2158 Gottingen Street.

The following are some of the Centre's most pertinent operating objectives: To operate a Friendship Centre for the use and benefit of people of Native descent. To promote the educational and cultural advancement of Native people in and about the Metro area. To assist people of Native descent...to adjust to the cultural differences found in an urban area. To assist in providing shelter to Native transients seeking to find employment and permanent residence in the Metro area. To promote mutual understanding and good relations between Natives and non-Natives. To co-ordinate and encourage the effective use of groups concerned with inter-racial relations.

Since it opened in 1973, the Friendship Centre's staff have administered to the needs of thousands of Native and non-Native people. They provide, as part of a daily routine, employment, social, educational and other types of counseling.

Combating racism is high on the list of duties. A fact that is largely unrecognized, and thus unappreciated, is that Friendship Centres have been very instrumental in heading off and preventing racial confrontations between Natives and non-Natives in urban areas. Without their positive presence, many racial incidents would have flared out of control and hit the headlines.

Perhaps the most under-appreciated aspect of the Mi'kmaq Centre is how it provides education opportunities for Natives whose needs cannot be addressed in the mainstream. In this regard, in the mid-1980s, the Micmac Native Learning Centre was founded. The school was so successful that on October 1, 1995, it was accredited as the first Mi'kmaq Community College in the province. Kjiputuk College provides a variety of educational and training programs, GED upgrading, a college preparation course, and computer application for business program, to name a few.

Operating a Centre is not an easy task, especially when the host municipality does not cooperate. A good example of poor cooperation is the following: At the time of the establishment of the Community College, it was decided that a larger building was needed. Thus, the Centre, in concert with the Islamic Association of the Maritimes, approached the City with the intent of acquiring from it a surplus school property located on Chebucto Road. They were turned down.

During September of this year, the Municipality sold the building for less than what the unsuccessful bidders had offered in 1985, without consulting them. This action could easily be construed as an very incompetent way to manage city properties, or as a matter that the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission might find interesting. After all, one would think that when a Native organization undertakes steps to acquire a suitable property to give it space to provide education opportunities to an educationally handicapped group of people, a morally motivated municipal government would have responded positively.

My personal volunteer association with the Centre was of long duration. I was a director on its Board for ten to fifteen years and was president for at least five of them. It was a sometimes strenuous, but rewarding, experience.

On October 17, 1998, the Centre celebrated its 25th anniversary. During the gala event, all former volunteers were honoured for the services they had so freely given. The Centre's existence is tied to the generosity of such people. If you are interested in donating time or otherwise to the cause., information can be had by writing to The Micmac Native Friendship Centre, 2158 Gottingen Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3K 3B4, or by calling 420-1576.

Kudos to all present and past board directors, executive and staff for a job well done. From among these generous associates, I want to single out for special mention Executive Director Gordon King. For 22 years, he has guided the ship through mostly lean times in a very competent and dedicated manner. Thanks a bunch, Mr. King!

Daniel N. Paul


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