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Funding for new Mi’kmaw Friendship Centre in Halifax close to $50 million

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Funding for new Mi’kmaw Friendship Centre in Halifax close to $50 million
The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre is a step closer to expansion. Ottawa announced nearly $29 million today for funding to build a new facility. Those at the centre call it a turning point toward reconciliation. Alicia Draus reports – Jun 27, 2023

The federal and Nova Scotia governments announced on Tuesday an additional $15 million for a new Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax, bringing their total contribution to about $50 million.

Halifax MP Andy Fillmore said Ottawa will invest another $5 million in addition to the roughly $34 million it had already set aside for the project. Karla MacFarlane, Nova Scotia’s minister of L’nu affairs, said the province is contributing $10 million to the new centre, which will be located at the edge of Citadel Hill.

“The new building will have more space, intentionally designed to help serve a diverse Indigenous population that continues to grow,” MacFarlane said. The project, named the Wije’winen Centre, will also “add to the cultural landscape of Halifax, and serve as a more meaningful, culturally appropriate focal point for the urban Indigenous community.”

Nova Scotia had invested $1.7 million for the friendship centre’s temporary location on Brunswick Street, in which more than 55 programs are offered, including for early childhood education, housing support, language training and harm reduction. The new centre will offer expanded programs and house a community gathering space and a new health clinic.

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We’koqma’q Chief Annie Bernard-Daisley, co-chair of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs, said members of her community travel from the Cape Breton region to access services at the friendship centre.

“I don’t know how many calls I’ve made to the friendship centre, trying to locate some of our missing women, and each and every time, they’ve stepped up,” she said.

Pam Glode Desrochers, executive director of the friendship centre, said rainwater used to drip into the reception area of the old building.

“I have been up on that roof, in stilettos, with a bucket of tar, filling that hole,” she said.

The friendship centre’s workers are “dealing with trauma every day,” Glode Desrochers said, supporting people with mental-health and addictions issues, and who are also dealing with housing insecurity.

“I just want to make sure that the staff have a safe and secure place, that our community members have a safe and secure place, but also something that they can be so proud of and see themselves in,” she said.

The design process for the new centre is underway, Glode Desrochers said, and the land has been transferred to the centre from the Halifax Regional Municipality, allowing the demolition of an empty building on the property to begin shortly.

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The new centre will be a mass timber build, she said, and will ideally be net-zero in energy consumption. Construction on the new centre could start as early as next spring, she added.

The centre will be open to the non-Indigenous community as well, Glode Desrochers said.

“It really is about us coming together,” she said, “because nobody is going anywhere.”

Glode Desrochers has said the price tag for the project could be as high as $65 million. On Tuesday, she said the centre would begin a fundraising drive to help raise the money needed to cover the remaining costs for the project.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2023.

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