Friendship Centres were originally developed to provide referral services to Indigenous populations transitioning from reservations, Metis communities and rural and remote areas to urban centres. There was an overarching need identified to assist people through these transitions in safe, caring ways that reduced the impacts of discrimination.
Community leaders recognized the need for specialized agencies to assist their populations and by the mid 1950s three newly formed Friendship Centres emerged throughout Canada. The Indian and Metis Friendship Centre in Winnipeg, the Coqualeetza Fellowship Club in Vancouver and the North American Indian Club in Toronto.
As the Friendship Centres grew and evolved, so did their numbers. By 1968 there were 26 Friendship Centres in operation throughout Canada and the need did not end there. The number climbed by 1972 to 43 centres and by 1983 there were 80 centres in existence. Between 2012 and 2017 there was a total of 118 Friendship Centres in Canada, and that number holds steady today.
National Association of Friendship Centres
In 1972 the National Association of Friendship Centres (NAFC) was established in Ottawa to represent the growing number of Friendship Centres across Canada. Friendship Centres experienced rapid growth at the time and their services were shifting from referrals and counselling work to front line program delivery.
NAFC originally secured federal funding through the Migrating Native Peoples Program and today through Indigenous Services Canada. It is governed by a volunteer board of directors, an executive committee, and receives advice and direction by esteemed community members known as senators, and a national youth council.
Manitoba Association of Friendship Centres
The Manitoba Association of Friendship Centres (MAC) was established in 1971. At the time there were seven provincial friendship centres: Selkirk, Winnipeg, Portage la Prairie, Brandon, Swan River, The Pas, and Flin Flon. Today, MAC has eleven-member Friendship Centres including Dauphin, Lynn Lake, Thompson, and Riverton.
Like the NAFC, MAC is governed by a volunteer board of directors, an executive committee, their constitution and by-laws and internal policies and procedures. MAC unifies the existing members into one voice to address issues within the three levels of government, for the betterment of the populations they serve.