A major renovation of the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre will improve accommodations for Cree patients staying in the city for healthcare services. A new five-storey pavilion will be constructed adjacent to the centre’s current building, on its existing parking space.
Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller and provincial Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière announced the $60 million project in Val-d’Or May 1. Ottawa will contribute $40 million, with $10 million each from the Quebec government and the Fondation Lucie et André Chagnon.
“This project traces a path towards reconciliation and is part of a process of cultural safety and bridge-building between peoples,” stated Friendship Centre president Oscar Kistabish. “The contribution of Indigenous knowledge-carriers, artists and artisans gives the project an invaluable sense of purpose and identity.”
As the new pavilion will be carbon-neutral, energy efficient and resilient to climate change, Infrastructure Canada is budgeting $25 million of the federal funds for the new Friendship Centre, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2024.
“We’re looking forward to the next 50 years with our healthy environment values,” said executive director Édith Cloutier. “A committee of knowledge carriers, artists and Elders accompanied the architects and engineers, anchoring this project in our identity. It’s going to be a ‘geo-symbol’ – a strong statement about who we are as First Peoples.”
The top three floors of the new building will house Cree patients and their caregivers, with 90 beds available in 48 rooms equipped with private washrooms. This facility will include communal areas specifically for Cree patients to socialize and prepare meals.
While the current service corridor between the Cree Health Board and the CISSS de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue facilitates care for nearly 9,000 Cree patients and their caregivers each year, CHB executive director Daniel St-Amour said that a lack of accommodation forces more than 80% to stay in area hotels for four nights on average.
“For our clientele who need to move away from their community to receive healthcare, it is fundamental to ensure the best conditions during their stay,” said CHB chairperson Bertie Wapachee. “We acknowledge the efforts of the Native Friendship Centre to offer dedicated lodging and a safety to our clients, as well as a revitalized and welcoming environment that respects Indigenous culture and traditions.”
The new pavilion will also provide space for the growing needs of the Minowé health clinic – recognized as a province-wide model for urban Indigenous healthcare – where medical staff deliver culturally safe health and social services.
With new reception, cafeteria, offices and community gathering spaces for the overcrowded 25-year-old building, this development will allow the Friendship Centre to repatriate services currently dispersed among rented locations.
“The centre would like to add space for different community activities, specific spaces dedicated for Elders and youth, for our family and early childhood programs, and to renovate our daycare centre,” Cloutier told the Nation.
The centre’s diversified frontline services are keeping pace with a growing urban Indigenous population. Its grassroots initiatives provide a cultural connection.
“We work with other partners on homelessness programs to support our people who are most vulnerable, but at the other end we also have training programs for young adults who want to access the labour markets,” Cloutier explained. “It’s just part of being connected with our community – we always take that challenge.”
Along with a day respite centre for the homeless, the centre’s social-housing project provides 24 apartments for Indigenous families with specialized services to promote a positive living environment. Cloutier said that demand is so high for this housing that they could build another tomorrow morning and it would still be full.
Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2024 and be completed in 2026. It will increase capacity for a wide range of services, including psychosocial intervention, justice access, skills development, cultural activities and an artisan marketplace.
“This Friendship Centre is becoming an urban Indigenous governance model that is promoting self-determination through community development,” asserted Cloutier. “It’s taking recommendations off the shelves of national inquiries to truly put them into action. We feel we’re contributing concretely at a local level to make reconciliation happen.”
By Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter