The design for a proposed $18.6-million Indigenous Friendship Centre on Fredericton’s north side has been revealed, and those who are the centre of its creation are eager to get it running.
Patsy McKinney, the executive director of Under One Sky, said the organization has outgrown the space, and the demand is higher than ever.
She said that when she was asked about what she’d like Under One Sky to look like in the future, she dreamed in technicolour, and out of that was born Awitgati, meaning a place to gather and be well.
The centre, which is awaiting federal funding, will offer wrap-around services with everything from social work, healthcare, employment support, among others. McKinney explained Indigenous people have no choice but to step outside of their community to get these services.
“Instead of having to go off to multiple different services, the goal was always to have one place to come to serve families for whatever programs that they need,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “So the more we talked about it, and what it could look like, it ended up morphing into this beautifully magnificently space that got designed. So we’re pretty excited.”
The proposed centre will be 23,000 square feet and could be built on Union Street. The provincial government has donated 0.3 hectares of land for the project.
Federal funding approval pending
The group of 15 people surrounding the creation of the friendship centre spent 75 days ironing out the fine details. It applied for the “Green and Inclusive Community Buildings” grant available with Infrastructure Canada.
Construction could begin in the spring of 2022 and be completed in the fall of 2023.
Awitgati would operate more than 50 programs in conjunction with local not-for-profits, education, and healthcare institutions.
It will create 130 construction jobs and 20 additional jobs once it begins operating.
The five-year economic spinoff, once construction begins, is expected to be around $34 million.
A step toward truth and reconciliation
For elder Miigam’agan, the friendship centre is more than a building; it’s a step in the right direction for New Brunswick.
“This will be our home base,” she said. “This is a first of its kind in New Brunswick. People are holding their breath. This will reflect what our relationship has come to in the East Coast, in the Wabanaki.”
The centre is pledging to also help work on accomplishing the 12 actions recommend for truth and reconciliation with Indigenous people in Canada.
Mike Crawford, the project coordinator for Awitgati Longhouse and Cultural Centre, said everyone organizers have approached about the project has just understood its purpose and is on board.