Brett Watson receives congratulations, gift and handshake from Brian Hill, President of N`Amerind Friendship Centre.

Brett Watson receives congratulations, gift and handshake from Brian Hill, President of N`Amerind Friendship Centre.

By Shirley Honyust/ Yenatli:yo

LONDON – 2015 is a special year for N`Amerind Friendship Centre. Fifty years previously a group of concerned individuals gathered their concern for the issues that beset their community members struggling to become new residents of London and made it their mission to help each other with the constant struggles of migration to the big city. At that time the population of London was approximately 194,000; today it is over 366,151. Although the language barrier, i.e. speaking English fluently, has been overcome for the most part, the Centre still flourishes today as the vibrant hub of the community offering programs and services to enhance the growth of the community as a whole, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

This year the Indigenous community was honoured at the Aboriginal Solidarity Day event, with greetings from London’s Mayor Matt Brown, as well as the new Deputy Chief of Police, Steve Williams. N`Amerind returned this courtesy with the presentation of an original oil painting by Moses Lunham, titled “Protective Spirit”, gifted to the London Police Department by N`Amerind, to recognize the role they played in reaching out to Indigenous organizations by inviting them to the ceremony to celebrate the appointment of a new Deputy Chief of Police, as well as their generous donation towards planning and participation of this year’s Aboriginal Solidarity Day.

Luke Nicholas was the chair of this year’s Annual General Meeting and did an excellent job of keeping everyone on track and on topic. Agenda items began with an opening prayer by Ron Hill, Cultural Coordinator with the Yesalihuni (They Will Teach You) Program and greetings from the Executive Director, Al Day, and President, Brian Hill. These words of welcome led to a delightful dinner of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and cooked veggies, topped off by strawberries, cake and ice cream for dessert (it is so important to have good food at these kinds of events). What really made an impression was that a significant number of the dinner guests, including children and babies, who stayed to participate in the meeting and voting that followed.

Following a brief overview of the financial status of the organization by the new auditors, MacNeill and Edmundson, questions were asked and answers were forthcoming, mostly by the president and the executive director. The community showed good insight into the affairs of N`Amerind, and one comment/ question that simply begged for an answer was: “This is the 50th year of operation of N`Amerind…why isn’t there more jumping for joy, bells and whistles, more hoopla?”

The answer to this was two-fold. The first part being that N`Amerind didn’t become incorporated until 1967; therefore the official 50th anniversary will be held in 2017. Secondly, numerous renovations were made to the Centre to allow for upgrading the accessibility, fixing the roof, and renovating the kitchen. A significant portion of the money that came into the Centre and collected through fund raising efforts went towards these improvements. Renovations to the simple kitchen of years gone by were reflected in a new purposeful standard.  Upgrading included a new kitchen floor, a new stove, fridges, cupboards, stainless steel food prep table, industrial dishwasher, real dishes and cutlery–generally making the area more user-friendly. Cost of these improvements to the main building, roof repairs and kitchen were estimated at approximately 100,000.

Several awards were presented to volunteers who went beyond the mark, making themselves completely indispensable, and it was reiterated by the chair that it is through the work of  volunteers that the foundation of N`Amerind was built and it is their work today that keeps it growing.  Awards included the Bernice Payne Award to Brett Watson (grandson of the late Pauline Jamieson, one of the original founding members); Bernice Payne was a local philanthropist who bequeathed money for an annual award to N`Amerind Friendship Centre, specifying that she wanted the money to be given away, not added to the coffers for salaries and supplies.

The Volunteer Award of Distinction went to a local fundraising group, Angels in the Night, who were the driving force behind a significant portion of the fundraising towards the new kitchen.

Special Volunteer Recognition went to Anthony Ireland, local professional chef, who took charge of the task of feeding community members who dropped by on Wednesday afternoons for something to eat between 4:00 and 6:00, and in doing so he raised the menu bar from soup and sandwiches to Indian tacos. His thank-you speech included praise and gratitude for the changes that were made to the cooking area and made sure everyone knew what a pleasure it was for him to volunteer with the N`Amerind Soup Kitchen and to help bring others on board, offering them the opportunity to get community service volunteer hours, and gain skills in preparing food.

Staff award was presented to Ron Hill, Cultural Coordinator of the Yesalihuni (They will teach you) Program. Ron hails from Oneida Wisconsin and came in during the collaboration between Fanshawe, N`Amerind and Western University, when N`Amerind was selected as the venue to provide lectures. With original funding from Trillium, Ron has been able to put together a roster of traditional teachers, elders, healers and historians from the local First Nations communities to fill the calendar for the past two years; this September being the third year. Although a contract worker, Ron has put in countless overtime hours, loves to cook, and has come in even on his days off, to help out with other programs’ events.

The President’s Award was presented to Julie Peters, an ambitious young veteran volunteer who has served as secretary to the board for six years, and just days before the Annual General Meeting, submitted her resignation to the board as well as her full time employers, to take on the position of becoming a first time mommy to her new baby boy!

Program objectives, activities, achievements, general statistics and plans for the upcoming year were included in the booklet put together for the Annual General Meeting. During, Community Voices, one community member inquired “How do you determine who is eligible to be nominated for a position on the board of directors?”, and these criteria were explained: 1) Candidates must be 18 years of age (in order to vote) with the exception of the youth delegate; 2) He/ She must be knowledgeable about First Nations communities in the area; 3) Nominations must be made by a member holding a current membership of N`Amerind Friendship Centre; 4) Candidates accepting their nomination must be willing and able to attend board and committee meetings. The youth delegate must be selected by the current youth council members.

Before voting took place two short videos were presented from Real Voice Project, the project that took place at N`Amerind, starring youth who produced videos on their journey towards self-identity. One particular video, “Self-Harm to Self-Love”, by Frankie Antone, received a straight-from-the-heart standing ovation!

Finally the moment that everyone was waiting for: the nominations and election of the new board members. Following are the names that comprise the new Board of Directors for N`Amerind Friendship Centre: Brian Hill (President); Wayne Watson (First Vice-President); Donna Phillips (Second Vice-President); Ann Marie Proulx (Kick) (Treasurer); Chantel Doxtator (Secretary); Shirley Honyust; Blanche Huff; Jill Green; Frankie Antone (youth delegate); Helen Abram; Tristen Antone and Jean McCloud. Congratulations were extended to all, especially the new members, by audience and the previous board!

The evening drew to an end with a closing prayer by Ron Hill and a fitting quotation by Luke Nicholas, chair for the meeting, “Friendship is the bond between us that binds us together”.