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Bonnyville Friendship Centre invites speakers for open house celebrations

On a crisp afternoon in March, the Bonnyville Native Friendship Centre welcomed community members and guests to an open house filled with warmth, cultural pride, and a shared vision for the future.  

BONNYVILLE - On a crisp afternoon in March, the Bonnyville Native Friendship Centre welcomed community members and guests to an open house filled with warmth, cultural pride, and a shared vision for the future.  

The open house showcased the newly renovated facility and introduced the organization’s programs and services. 

Angie McGillivray, Director of Mental Health Supports, described some of the activities available at the center, saying, "Kids come here and engage in activities like card-making, ribbon skirt making, cultural tap, crocheting, and hat beading. These activities are open to people of all ages, not just youth. Additionally, we have a homework group and Drama Queers program, where participants enjoy activities like voguing. It's a safe and enjoyable place for everyone to gather and have fun." 

She adds the Friendship Centre is running many different programs now to gauge what the community needs.  

“And then if it's successful, we keep running it,” if programs are not successful, then they take a step back and look at which target demographics need support. 

Janet Gobert, the Executive Director of the Bonnyville Native Friendship Centre, spoke about the upcoming open house events taking place. 

“On April 4, we'll have Adler Blackman. That will be at 1 p.m., and it is called the Sweet Grass Path. It will be in regards to the importance of sweet grass,” said Gobert. 

On April 5, the Friendship Centre will welcome the Rising Above Band. The event will include a turkey supper, following by the show at 7 p.m. 

The Friendship Centre recently wrapped up work on the facility thanks to a $2 million grant received in 2022 to renovate and expand the building. The organization repaired the roof of the older section of the building and built a new area housing a youth room and cultural room. 

Bringing children home

The main speaker on March 26 was Colleen Courtoreille, the Cold Lake First Nations FCSS Director who started in her position on Aug. 10, 2023. Her passion and commitment to bringing families together echoed through her words as she spoke about "Bringing Our Children Home." 

Courtoreille's journey in social work has been a profound one, marked by challenges and deep introspection. She reflected on the complexities of working within a system that often seemed at odds with Indigenous values and perspectives.  

"It was very hard to work within a system. But I didn't understand at the time because I was brand new, and I was obedient, and doing what I was told to do by my supervisors and my managers." 

As Courtoreille delved deeper into her experiences, she highlighted the profound impact of colonization and the residential school system on Indigenous communities.  

"Doing my research all across Canada, that impact that the Indian residential school has had on all the Indian people in Canada and the overlap of child welfare... I started understanding why I was questioned so much as to why I was working in this field." 

Her journey led her to Cold Lake First Nations, where she found a supportive community dedicated to making real change.  

"That's what brought me to Cold Lake First Nations. So, within the ministry, I started working with a wonderful team... with FCSS, and the leadership was amazing that I was working with.” 

Courtoreille highlighted the significant improvements achieved through her efforts at Cold Lake First Nations. She is a social worker specializing in working with children who are in foster care within the community. 

“We started making different changes for children and families. Children started coming home, we started strongly advocating, and it was that working relationship that really worked because we were impacting changes.”  

Children were coming home and being brought back to the nation “where they belong, and back to their families,” she explained. “And it's really, that's the part that's really important.” 

Courtoreille's work went beyond addressing immediate challenges but aimed to establish a foundation for lasting change. She emphasized the importance of empowering communities to shape their own laws and policies through the Indigenous governing body process. 

"We did open a sub-office in Edmonton for the nation members, and we are going to start the process of community engagement, to start the process of building our own legislation, our own law," Courtoreille stated. 

She continued, "It's going to be defined by the community members of Cold Lake, not me, not my consultants, not our team. We're going to be supporting the process, but it's going to be the membership, it's going to be the elders, it's going to be the people, the youth, the children. They're going to change how the law is going to look.” 

The discussion of creating a new law includes plans to engage community members, elders, youth, and children in Cold Lake to develop their own legislation and laws under Bill C-92 which is a Canadian federal law related to Indigenous child and family services.  

The law, also known as the Child and Family Services Act, aims to affirm Indigenous jurisdiction over child and family services and prioritize the well-being of Indigenous children, families, and communities, with a focus on bringing Indigenous children back to their communities and strengthening family relationships.  

Courtoreille mentioned that Cold Lake First Nations is anticipating funding in April, which will support the initial steps in creating the new legislation. This funding will facilitate efforts to reunite Indigenous children with their families, making the process more accessible and effective, she says. 

Chantel Downes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Chantel Downes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Chantel Downes is a graduate of The King's University, with a passion for writing and storytelling. Originally from Edmonton, she received her degree in English and has a minor in communications.
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