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The unprecedented challenge the pandemic presents to the world has all the potential to lead to real, lasting change in the way we do some things as a society.

Political bluster and hyperbole aside, nursing homes across the country could attract more oversight. Production of essential goods could increasingly take place within our borders. We may use less oil. We may see a shakeup of the geopolitical order established after the Second World War, the event most referred to by talking heads trying to put the Covid-19 pandemic in perspective.

Amber Forsey, left, getting flu shot Judy Steele, right, supervisor of Hay River Public Health 20th annual Adult Health Fair Presented by Hay River Public Health Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre Nov. 2, 2017 Hay River. NNSL file photo.

The way people in the service sector are paid has come into particularly sharp focus with every (daily) update on the devastation the virus is wreaking in long-term care facilities, mostly in Quebec and Ontario. So, too, have the dangers employees of health-care operations face, including not just doctors and nurses, but cleaners, housekeepers, food preparers and others.

Much of the talk is of paying these people what they’re worth, which is commendable. But there’s also a cold economic calculation to be made that shows failing to invest adequately in one sector can cause needless expenses elsewhere.

On this front, Indigenous friendship centres, which operate shelters and provide meals, community support and Elders programs in seven communities across the NWT (plus one each in the Yukon and Nunavut), should be included in the conversation.

Last week, News/North reported that there was concern for these places in the NWT because an annual grant of $250,000 from the GNWT is drying up and there’s no replacement in sight. It was in place for two years and was meant to help build capacity within the NWT and Nunavut Council of Friendship Centres, and to help them seek out other funding sources.

In response to the contribution not making the cut in the GNWT’s 2020-21 budget, Deh Cho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge asked cabinet for crisis funding to support the friendship centres facing down the pandemic.

“There’s no other organization in our community that can provide that kind of service,” Bonnetrouge said of the Fort Providence friendship centre.

“There’s nobody else running those organizations. We don’t have any volunteer organizations and stuff like this. Friendship centres have been counted on to run a lot of things.”

They’re doing work that the government will have to take over if they disappear, and at a government sort of rate, which would cost us all more. Is this how we treat our friends?
“Building capacity” is a vague term to use to describe how a pot of money should be spent, but it probably involves developing human resources and training people. This is also a commendable undertaking, but one that probably requires more than two years of investment to reach its full potential. Insert rant on the challenges of recruitment and retention in the NWT here.

Bonnetrouge said he’s asking for “emergency” funding to fill the hole left on the friendship centres’ balance sheet. He shouldn’t have to use that terminology.

Premier Caroline Cochrane in March said friendship centres play a “valuable” role in the communities they serve. In a time where talk of what constitutes an essential service is all the rage, it’s plain to see for Bonnetrouge, News/North and the 13,000 or so people the centres assist territory-wide that these de facto community hubs meet that test and should be supported by the GNWT accordingly.

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