"Keep the balance, know your culture but take your place in society as well."
Andy George of Smithers was Canadian war veteran and a man with a long involvement in the Dze L Kan’t Friendship Centre. He became active with the Centre out of a desire to "do something constructive" especially in the area of education.
Andy was particularly concerned that young people finish school, take advantage of apprenticeship programs and try to break down the educational barriers holding Aboriginal people back. He supported youth in getting ahead and combatting discrimination but he also reminded the youth to remember where they came from.
Andy working as a legal worker at the Dze L Kan't FC (Smithers 1984)
Building strong leaders...
Supporting Indigenous youth and providing mentorship has long been a focus of BC Friendship Centres. When interviewed in 1984 Harriet Janvier from Fort St. John’s Keeginaw Friendship Centre reflected on when the Centre set up a Peer Counselling course to assist young people on the verge of giving up on the educational system. Harriet Janvier and the local home/school coordinator were trying to reach potential dropouts and help them stay in school.
In order to build strong Aboriginal leaders in their community for the future, efforts were made to boost the morale and self-confidence of young people. Harriet pinpointed discrimination in the schools and insecure feelings about being Aboriginal as barriers to growth and self-esteem at the time.“Many had trouble expressing themselves and relating to other youngsters in school.” Through counselling and interaction with Elders, she hoped a clear message would inspire youth.
“Take pride in everything you do and be proud of who you are," she said. "If you're good to other people then good things will come your way.”
The Importance of Friendship…
Ellen White was the first President of what is now the Tillicum Lelum Aboriginal Friendship Centre. She was an author, storyteller and educator. As an Elder interviewed in 1984, Ellen stressed the importance of language heritage, oral education, and using stories as teaching tools. “Our tradition says that if you are lucky enough to hear a story you must share it. This custom along with the individual personality, facial expressions, hand and arm movements of the Elders help youngsters to remember our stories.”
Reaching into the past Ellen drew upon some timeless words of wisdom regarding ‘Friendship’:
"A child was told that to have friendship is the most precious thing you will carry for the rest of your life. To have no friends is like a little piece of wood drifting in the water. When the water goes out it goes out with it, when the water comes in it comes back in with it. You are floating alone forever.
Ellen White (left) and Carol Marshall (rigth) were long time supporters of Tillicum Friendship Centre in Nanaimo.
George was elected as the President of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC) for nine consecutive years. In 1989, George became involved at a provincial level as the first Vice-President of the BCAAFC. After his terms as first vice-president, the BCAAFC Executive Committee invited George to become a member of the BCAAFC Elders Council.
George is a member and former Chief of the Kwagiulth Nation in Alert Bay. George was involved with the Friendship Centre Movement for over 30 years. He began as a board member of the Victoria Native Friendship Centre (VNFC) and stayed involved because of the help being offered to urban Aboriginal people. George stated that was when he knew he gave his heart to the Movement.
Inspired by his own personal struggles as a young man, George understood the importance of providing positive support to Indigenous youth, particularly those with addictions. George volunteered his time to mentor those youth at the Tsow-Tun Le Lum Substance Abuse Treatment Centre for many years as well as sitting on the board. To this day, he and his wife Ruth continue to mentor Indigenous Youth, when able, at both the University of Victoria and Camosun College. George and Ruth have been married for over fifty years. Ruth, also entrenched in the Friendship Centre movement, sat as the BCAAFC Provincial Aboriginal Youth Council (PAYC) Elder for many years July 2012, George was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal to honor his accomplishments and exceptional service. George has always believed that you need to be of service to your People and to your community, and says “a leader walks with their people”. George has the gift of listening and observing before making comments or giving advice, and when he speaks his voice is honored and respected.
When asked what his vision of the future for Friendship Centres, George replied “Those of us living in urban centers will continue to walk forward with the vision of attaining self-sufficiency…this is a goal that all Friendship Centres should attain…We must continue to welcome our brothers and sisters moving into the urban communities. For myself, it is to continue to volunteer for the Movement as long as my knowledge and time permit.
George (turning 88 in July) officially retired from the BCAAFC Elders Council in 2015 were he was honoured and blanketed by the BC Friendship Centre Movement for his generous contributions of wisdom and advice over the years. When asked what his vision of the future for Friendship Centres, George replied: “Those of us living in urban centers will continue to walk forward with the vision of attaining self-sufficiency…this is a goal that all Friendship Centres should attain…We must continue to welcome our brothers and sisters moving into the urban communities. For myself, it is to continue to volunteer for the Movement as long as my knowledge and time permit.
Basil ‘Buzz’ Morissette
At 87, Buzz has been contributing to the well-being of Indigenous People in BC for more than fifty years and directly involved with the founding or boards of over 15 organizations. The majority of his work has been through volunteerism to provide effective, alternative resources for the betterment of the socio-economic situation of Indigenous people.
BCAAFC Elder Council member Basil ‘Buzz’ Morissette is one of the founding members of the Friendship Centre Movement in BC as well as a founding member of the Native Courtworker Program, the first and vital bridge over the gulf between the justice system and Indigenous people. Buzz is also a dedicated Board member of the Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society as well as a lifetime member of the National Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (NAFC).
He has shown his ability to work with virtually everyone to accomplish his goals, and has become a role model for many young people who consider him a mentor and trusted friend. He is deeply dedicated to Indigenous Youth and co-hosts with the BCAAFC Elder Council a most beloved workshop every year at BCAAFC Gathering our Voices Youth Conference called “Elders Don’t Bite”. Buzz is also passionately committed and outspoken about Ending Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls Buzz is a visionary who finds the means to make those visions reality. His personal reward for his hours of community service is in seeing the strengthening of Indigenous people and in knowing that implementing one of his concepts has made a difference with at least one individual.
Buzz received the Order of BC in 1996 for his years of service and dedication of improving the opportunities in both employment and education for Indigenous people but also addressing the many systemic barriers harming Indigenous People.
Buzz’s Passion for the Friendship Movement was captured at a 2011 BCAAFC board meeting in which Buzz spoke to the issue of urban Indigenous needs… “Many people are lost when they come to urban areas. We need to help them and provide them with a safe place. There are so many diverse Aboriginal people in urban areas now and we need to maintain Aboriginal communities within the Friendship Centres, which will welcome and help our people to be themselves. We can only do that if we build a community no matter where we came from…”