The Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC) is celebrating 50 years of service in the community.
“We’re proud of the impact we’ve had over the years, but our community has faced struggles and challenges,” says Ron Rice, Executive Director of the VNFC. “Many of our people are on the streets with addictions. It’s tough for some because they’re usually at a lower income level. With this centre, we are able to build strong connections and pass our traditions onto the next generation.”
On Sunday, Sept. 29, dozens gathered in Saanich to experience traditional dances, songs, drumming and healthy portions of Venison chili, among other featured dishes. From a bouncy castle to a human version of foosball, there were plenty of activities to enjoy at the 50-year-celebration.
Back in 1969, many Indigenous people were flocking to urban areas, looking for successful lives outside of their reserve communities. With so many people making the same transition, opening a community centre was a logical next step.
In April 1970, the Victoria Native Friendship Centre opened a single-room space on the corner of Yates and Broad Street. The first goal was to provide Indigenous peoples with adequate rental opportunities and jobs, but as time has passed, the organization saw a need for education.
Over the years, the VNFC partnered with Camosun College, offering upgrading classes at the centre. In the blink of an eye, a soup kitchen program popped up and an Indigenous resource library opened – the first and only one of its kind.
After three more location hops, the VNFC found a home at 231 Regina Ave in Saanich. Since settling into the area, three totem poles have been raised to represent each of the island cultural groups: Salish, Kwakwa’kawa’kw, and Nuuchanulth.
Now, the VNFC is expected to reach 125 employees by November 2019. According to a 2016 census, there are 17,000 Indigenous peoples living in Greater Victoria.
“We opened this centre first believing that our community needed ‘things’ to survive,” says Rice. “It turns out that they needed belonging as well.”
VNFC hosts a community lunch every Friday from 12-1 p.m. They extend the open invitation to anyone who’s looking for a hot meal.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed local First Nations groups. We apologize for the error and any confusion this may have caused.