The Native Friendship Centre is located in Val-d’Or, in a region that has been called Abitibi for only 80 years but that has been inhabited by Algonquians for millenniums. The creation of Indian reserves in the early 50s forced the Algonquians to settle around Val-d’Or (Lac-Simon, Kitcisakik and Pikogan). During that period, many Algonquians families left their natural environment to come and live in the city. In 2006, Statistics Canada revealed that 2825 people declared Aboriginal status, in the MRC de la Vallée-de-l'Or. It is a growing population that is very young in comparison to the rest of the Quebec population: in 2006, 42% of the Native population was less than 25 years old compared to 25% for the non-native population.
In the province of Quebec, it is etimated that more than a third of Aboriginal people live off their community of origin. In Val-d’Or, the Aboriginal urbanization phenomenon is easily noticed. In Abitibi, Val-d’Or is a major focal point for this trend and is now the place of birth for new generations of Aboriginals who have never known life on a reserve. Transient Aboriginals represent another segment of the Friendship Centre’s clientele; they come to Val-d’Or to study, work, for court matters, or because of medical problems. For example, 95% of the clientele who need the accommodation services is composed of people from the northern communities who have come to Val-d'Or for health problems, mostly pregnant women and elderly people. The Youth service welcomes many young Algonquians from the Kitcisakik community who live in foster homes in Val-d’Or during the school year and who gather in the Youth room because of its culturally suited environment.
The Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre offers a wide array of services to meet the needs of a clientele that is diversified but united in its aboriginal identity. The services offered cover many areas and most age groups, and follow the criteria promoted by the Friendship Centre: which is to contribute to the well-being of the individuals from the Aboriginal community by promoting a holistic approach that maintains a delicate balance between the soul, the body, the spirit and the heart, empowering individuals to develop their skills and recognize their abilities. The services offered aim to improve the quality of life and the general health of the individuals by breaking the feeling of isolation often experienced in the city and helping to develop a positive image of self-worth. This positive image extends to the general population to help break prejudices and bridge the gap between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals.
In Québec, more than one third of Aboriginal people live in urban centres…
To protect their identity and preserve their culture, to develop services adapted to their diverse reality and to assist each other in facing the new challenges posed by the city, Aboriginal urban dwellers came together and created gathering places that contribute to their identity, cultural, social, economic and political strengthening. Known as Native Friendship Centres, these centres offer frontline services in urban areas. Thus was born the broad movement of Native Friendship Centres across Québec and Canada.
Urban Aboriginal people are starting to occupy public spaces in various ways and capacities. Our youth and demographic growth is changing the cityscape. A collective Aboriginal action is developing; a new citizenship identity is emerging which is neither that of the Québécois, nor that of cultural communities, nor that of Aboriginal communities.