It is with great pride that the United Native Friendship Centre (UNFC) has moved to its new home on Mowat Avenue, with our child and family programs now on McIrvine Road. We are busy preparing our new space and new childcare centre scheduled to welcome you at our Grand Opening in early October.Operating in Fort Frances for nearly 50 years, UNFC knows the distinct needs of our Indigenous community members and how to address them. Our staff provide culture-based and supportive program and service delivery. Providing wrap-around services in a culturally safe environment is needed to help rebuild trust and provide a sense of safety, allowing for healing that needs to take place. In the wake of the recent uncoverings at Residential School sites, and the reliving of historical and ongoing trauma, we are all now more aware of why this is necessary. Building on the knowledge and expertise that already exists, we offer a wide variety of programs and services for all ages and stages of life. These include pre-natal, baby and family support, child mental health, healing and wellness, food and nutrition, homelessness outreach, education, employment and justice support. This is why Indigenous service delivery agencies are deserving of increased agency, autonomy, and respect. The deep knowledge and experience of UNFC puts us in a strong position to address community needs and any related crises. With their comprehensive understanding of urban Indigenous needs, our staff have the ability to create change amongst our most vulnerable community members. We also want to thank and acknowledge Treaty Three Police, the OPP, all first responders and hospital staff. Their ongoing handling of the pandemic and their informed, caring response to the increase in opioid use and overdoses has meant more to our community than can be properly expressed in words alone. Our deepest and sincerest gratitude for all your efforts. As well, the strong support of the community to our food bank throughout the pandemic has been incredibly helpful. Further support will be needed as we begin the difficult work of exhuming the local Residential School. The past is very much alive in our present and healing will take time. We are here to have the necessary difficult conversations — but we cannot do it alone. With this in mind, further and continued partnerships with mainstream organizations and municipal government will help to achieve better outcomes for the entire community of Fort Frances. Within these partnerships, Indigenous service delivery agencies must be engaged to make collaborative, meaningful, and informed decisions for our community. As well, funding that affects urban Indigenous community members must be allocated in a manner that allows for the Friendship Centre to do what is necessary in a timely and effective way. Unimpeded access to funding ear-marked for Indigenous services is crucial and must be directly stewarded by Indigenous organizations through the principles of autonomy and self-determination. UNFC is dedicated to enhancing the lives of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in our community and surrounding area and building a bridge of understanding. We help anyone in need. While there are those in our community that may not understand the need for reconciliation, we believe that more and more people are seeing it as crucial to moving forward in a good way.By building a relationship of mutual respect and understanding between Indigenous, mainstream and municipal agencies, we can effectively alleviate shared challenges. This work is part of the larger efforts between UNFC and the Town of Fort Frances to improve supports and services for Indigenous people in our community, with much collaboration and work to be done on implementing the Declaration of Mutual Commitment and Friendship signed last year.We look forward to welcoming you to our Grand Opening and moving forward together, in friendship.
Sheila McMahon, Executive Director of United Native Friendship Centre (UNFC).