Youth programs cut in funding freeze to Friendship Centre

A federal funding freeze has left the Red Deer Native Friendship Centre without any money for its youth programs.

A federal funding freeze has left the Red Deer Native Friendship Centre without any money for its youth programs.

Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth program grants were recently frozen by the federal government so that the program can be redesigned as it’s transferred to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada from Canadian Heritage.

In the meantime, the Red Deer Native Friendship Centre has lost $89,000 in annual funding to run its after school, health, recreational and cultural programming.

The centre’s total annual operational budget is $500,000.

The centre also partners with organizations and provides cultural programs and leadership development opportunities for aboriginal and non-aboriginal youth at Red Deer College, foster care, treatment centres, and in public and separate schools that do not provide cultural events.

“It’s just such a new announcement we’re still recovering from the shock from such a complete and thorough funding freeze,” said Tanya Schur, executive director with Red Deer Native Friendship Centre, on Tuesday.

“It’s enough funding to cripple aboriginal youth programming across the country.”

Across Canada over $22 million was distributed annually to friendship centres through Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth.

Jeffrey Cyr, executive director of National Association of Friendship Centres in Ottawa, said the one bright spot is that the federal government does want to work together on redesigning the program to meet priorities.

“I think that is the right approach. That shows a level of understanding that if you want to do it better, you need to engage the people who the program is for. That hasn’t been the past history of this program. The unfortunate thing is it’s hurting people in the short term,” Cyr said. Hopefully quick solutions will be found and funding unfrozen, he said.

One full-time and three part-time staff with Red Deer Native Friendship Centre were laid off due to the funding freeze.

Schur said last year 77 youth participated in programming that runs 20 hours a week most of the year, and scaled back in the summer.

Right now volunteers are being mobilized, fundraisers will be planned and corporate sponsors will be sought to continue programming about five hours a week, and to operate the annual canoe trip and cultural camp.

“The unique needs of aboriginal kids aren’t going to go away. We will try our best to maintain drop-in hours for the youth so they can stay connected to workers and counsellors.”

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