Cathy Syrette, Executive Director for the Indian Friendship Centre in the Sault, shares memories of the beginning of the local Friendship Centre, as her mother, Hilda Syrette, was one of the founding members.
The Sault Ste. Marie Indian Friendship Centre was incorporated in 1972, and joined the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres about a year later.
Indigenous Friendship Centres are not-for-profit, charitable corporations that are there to serve the needs of Urban Indigenous People by providing culturally appropriate services within Urban communities.
The Friendship Centre Movement is the Country’s most significant off-reserve Indigenous service infrastructure, and they serve the whole community, not just people of status.
“I can remember, as a little girl, waking up and there would be Indigenous people laying in their sleeping bags on our living room floor. There could be two or three at a time. And I remember Mum, having her soup on the stove and bannock in the oven, feeding these people who stopped by,” Cathy shares.
After years of grass-roots organizing, the Indian Friendship Centre of Sault Ste. Marie was incorporated.
The growing need for infrastructure in support of Indigenous-led programs started when the population of Indigenous people living off-reserve began to rise in the 1960’s, “they were leaving their first nations and going to urban areas. And they were in search, of what I believe [was], just an overall better and healthier lifestyle, employment, and education.”
Cathy shares that the integral part of the work done at the Friendship Centre is community outreach.
“My mom did all that kind of work when they worked with Mayor John Rhodes. They reached out to him, and it’s almost like a little bit of history repeating itself, because when Mayor Christian Provenzano got elected in as mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, I reached out to him and said, let’s get together, let’s meet each other, I’d like to share what the Friendship Centre is about. So, you know, building those good relationships, building foundational capacity in community work is really important.”
Starting with just a few programs, the Friendship Centre has grown exponentially over the years, expanding to over 30 community programs.
“My heart and my soul is here, because of the work done by my mother, and the the rest of the committee,” Cathy shares.
Thank our local Friendship Centre this Indigenous History month for the ground work they have laid, and continue to do in our community.