One of the largest and busiest friendship centres in the country is in unfriendly waters with the Manitoba Association of Friendship Centres (MAC).
The Indian and Metis Friendship Centre (IMFC) in Winnipeg’s north end, claims to serve some 7,000 vulnerable people a month, offering a warm place to stay, cultural programs for kids, parenting programs and food bank services to name a few.
But they’re at risk of closing their doors as MAC has sanctioned them for the second time in as many years, saying the centre too often plays fast and loose with the rules and finances.
“We’ve told IMFC many times, ‘this is what you need to do, this is how you need to do it, this is what we expect’ and they’re just not following what we’re asking,” said MAC president Roberta MacKinnon.
Last year, American Indian Movement supporters took over the friendship centre’s elections and voted in a nine-member board with Norman Lagimodiere as president.
Soon after, six members of the board were turfed. Then the executive director was let go and the finance director followed him.
MacKinnon said members of the board have no authority to kick out other duly elected members. And the president has stepped in as interim executive director.
She said the previous executive director and finance person were instrumental in getting funding flowing to the IMFC late last year after it was cut off in 2016 for noncompliance with reporting rules.
“There’s something about Winnipeg, they just won’t report,” said MacKinnon.
Some staff and board members also haven’t complied with the requirement to submit a criminal background check to MAC,
These issues put every friendship centre at risk, she said.
“When you’re not behaving or not being responsible for your financials and your governance it paints a bad brush for the rest of the centres.”
Lagimodiere said IMFC has asked MAC for governance training but they’ve been denied. MacKinnon disputes that.
“We have reached out to help them. We have asked them to have governance training, board training, how to take minutes, let us know when your board meetings are so we can observe and help you, and they haven’t let us know,” said MacKinnon.
“I don’t want to see this centre fail. I want to see it thrive,” MacKinnon said.
Meanwhile, the friendship centre’s community services liaison said they’re planning a volunteer appreciation banquet next month he hopes Winnipeggers will fund.
“We will be sending out a GoFundMe page very soon so Winnipeg if you can come together to keep the centre going so we can do bigger and better things,” said Chris D’Souza.