There’s a movie night happening in town tonight that’s been more than a year in the making.
Sheila McMahon, executive director of the United Native Friendship Centre here, was approached a little over a year ago by the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres with a proposal.
“They approached us and asked if we wanted to showcase our friendship centre,” McMahon noted.
“So in partnership with our provincial office and the National Film Board of Canada, we shot a film.”
That short film, entitled “Urban Indigenous Proud,” will be shown at the Circle of Life Centre on Mowat Avenue.
The evening will start with a dinner at 5 p.m., featuring a traditional opening by Gilbert Smith, and then the film will be shown at 6 p.m.
Several other short films made by other centres and communities as part of the same initiative also will be shown.
McMahon said the offer from the provincial office allowed them to focus on–and celebrate–some of the programs offered by the local friendship centre.
“We had the opportunity to choose what we wanted to showcase,” McMahon said.
“And with our friendship centre, we started at the beginning.”
Over the course of several days, the UNFC worked with the film crew to capture different aspects of some of its programs.
“The film starts off with our Aboriginal Head Start program,” McMahon noted. “And then we have our Healthy Living for Kids program, our Akwe:go, and our Wasa-nabin programs.
“We invited the film board to come and attend our indigenous language program, our Anishinaabemowin program,” she added.
The crew also was invited to a community gathering to showcase more of the activities offered through the UNFC.
“We had some young girls . . . they were beading, they were fixing their eagle feathers,” McMahon recalled.
“We had kids making drumsticks.
“We also had a dad come in and he made bannock in our family support program, so those are the types of cultural activities we do within the centre,” she noted.
McMahon said the film is an effort to highlight that culture that acts as the foundation for the programs offered by the UNFC to the community.
“We wanted to showcase that friendship centres are there for the urban indigenous community but that we do different types of things in the community,” she explained.
With a centre that’s been a part of the Fort Frances community since 1972, it’s easy to think that everyone already knows what the United Native Friendship Centre is all about.
But McMahon said she feels there are lingering misunderstandings about the services it offers.
“We’re open to everyone,” McMahon stressed. “Anybody who walks through the door.
“You don’t have to be indigenous to come if you need help and support.”
McMahon said the usage of their food bank is roughly 50 percent indigenous and non-indigenous, and that more seniors are relying on the service, as well.
“It’s not all indigenous people,” McMahon reiterated. “People are trying very hard.
“The cost of living has gone up so we see a lot of people that struggle.”
The UNFC also has to deal with social stigmas.
“I think we get a bad rap because I do know we deal with a lot of mental health and addictions issues,” McMahon conceded. “You see a lot of it in front of our building on Portage Avenue.
“But that’s not all we do,” she stressed. “We do a lot of great things in the community.”
Part of the hope in making and showing this short film is that it could help people better understand the United Native Friendship Centre and the services it provides.
“We do want to break down that stereotype,” McMahon said.
“I think it has to be a community issue,” she added. “It’s not one agency or five agencies, it’s a whole community.”
McMahon, meanwhile, is encouraging everyone to come out tonight.
“We’re excited for our film,” she enthused. “And we’re bringing the participants who were a part of our film and bringing them back to see it.
“It’s going to be a gathering and I think the youth are going to be very proud of what they’ve done.”