Originally named the Valley Native Friendship Centre (VNFC), the Society was established in 1975 in Duncan, B.C. Members of the local community, particularly Cowichan Band Chief Dennis Alphonse, Duncan Mayor Mike Coleman and initial Board President Alfie McDames, saw a need for a cultural bridge between the local Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.
There was also an obvious need for services to alleviate the problems the urban Aboriginal population was facing in the areas of health and social, housing and employment. Following the historic pattern of the Friendship Centre movement, the VNFC began as a referral service that survived on fund raising and grants and volunteer labour. Initial premises were at the old rectory beside St. Ann’s Church, then relocated to a small office in downtown Duncan on Station St.
The VNFC succeeded in obtaining core funding from Secretary of State in 1982. At that time, the Centre moved to the Log Mart on the highway. Again, following the historic trend of the Friendship Centre movement, the VNFC provided more and more direct services, as it grew and evolved. The Family Support Worker program first began to be funded in 1988 by the Ministry of Social Services and Housing. Healthiest Babies Possible program began in 1989 funded through the Ministry of Health. Also in 1989, the Addictions program began, funded through the Ministry of Labour.
In 1994, the Society officially changed its name and visual identity. The name, Hiiye’yu Lelum (House of Friendship) Society was submitted by Ruby Peter and selected by the committee. It means house of friendship or the home of a friend or home away from home. The new visual identity or logo that the committee chose was submitted by Manuel Salazar. The title of the logo is “In Friendship” and Manuel described in this way: “an Aboriginal person is exchanging an eagle feather with a person of another ethnic origin in friendship and trust. The green circle represents the growth of all cultures.”
In 1995, the Centre moved to its current location in the Sun Valley Mall. Originally, inhabiting only the upstairs space, we expanded into the downstairs space with the opening of the youth centre in 2000. This multi-purpose space now serves not only the youth centre, but also the Homelessness program uses it for Breakfast Club in the mornings and Healthiest Babies Possible uses it for group sessions every Thursday.
In 2007, we once again expanded. We took over more of the downstairs space at the front of the building to house our reception, childcare area, Healthiest Babies Possible, Community Kitchens, Administrative Assistant and Healthy Children Healthy Futures are located downstairs. We still get people coming up the stairs and saying “Reception’s not here now?”
In 2008, we added a totem pole in the entry foyer at the reception area. It is a beautiful addition.
The most recent addition in terms of programming is the Crime Prevention initiative, called the Youth Inclusion Program. Funded through the Ministry of Children and Family Development, it is a three-year project.
A program highlight this year was delivering the B-Step (Bladerunners) program in partnership with Coast Salish Employment and Training Society and Vancouver Island University. It provided students with a choice of training in Construction or Hospitality/Tourism. Twelve out of 18 students who signed up have completed the 18-week program.
In June 2009, we hosted an Aboriginal Day event in partnership North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) and the local Métis Association. The Spirit Pole, which was part of NAIG, was raised at the Community Centre and dedicated from NAIG and Cowichan Tribes to the people of the Cowichan Valley. We had venues such as mini-golf, bouncy castle, face-painting, concession, popcorn machine, as well as several entertainers. The Métis Association had a teepee and their wagon. Approximately 600 people attended the event.