Province makes good on aboriginal funding promise

Bruce Parisian sighed in relief when the voice on the phone said “You got your wish.”

After facing uncertain budgets, Greater Victoria agencies have been told they’ll get the money they need to provide services to the area’s aborginal community.

For Parisian, executive director of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, that means immediately hiring four new staff. Two will spend their days in one-on-one couselling with urban aboriginal youth in Greater Victoria. The other two will focus on combatting family violence within the local aboriginal community.

That sigh of relief, though, has been a long time coming.

In November, a story in the *News highlighted the plight of five organizations demanding the province make good on promises of more funding.

For the Victoria Native Friendship Centre in Saanich, the decision by the Ministry of Children and Family Development to deliver the extra cash means a five-year contract that provides $2 million per year.

The new contracts are part of a ministry initiative to make programs as effective as possible, MCFD public affairs officer Darren Harbord said.

“We have been working closely with all the aboriginal service providers to define a service model – one that is sustainable and will provide important services for children and families who needed them, which includes expanded aboriginal services,” he wrote in an e-mail response to the *News. “This new model will help strengthen aboriginal services – a key priority for the ministry – by putting funding and responsibility for aboriginal services in the hands of aboriginal people.”

The length of the contract is, in itself, a positive for the Native Friendship Centre.

“This is a first for us,” Parisian said of the five-year commitment. “It lends stability to our programs.”

The money will help tackle issues faced by the growing number of aboriginal youth in Victoria.

“Like they say, if you build it, they will come and we’ve seen a marginal – maybe more than marginal – increase in youth using our services.”

Over at Hulitan Family Services, executive director Kendra Gage said increased funding does little when the need is overwhelming.

Hulitan’s contract is for $1 million per year for five years – an overall increase of $511,000.

But “we’re actually in a worse position now than we were in two years ago,” she said, explaining that 15 families with children in ministry care are on Hulitan’s wait list to get help. The three staff designated to the cases can’t help because they’re already overwhelmed by work, Gage said.

“Am I glad we got our contract? Yeah, but it’s kind of bittersweet.”

ecardone@vicnews.com

The five

• Hulitan Family and Community Services Society

• The Victoria Native Friendship Centre

• Island Métis Family and Community Services Society

• Surrounded by Cedar Child and Family Services Society

• NIL/TU,O Child and Family Services