Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Slave Lake’s Native Friendship Centre was a beehive of activity for a few days late last month. Running from Thursday, Sept. 22 to Sunday, Sept. 25, the annual general meeting of the Alberta Native Friendship Centres Association (ANFCA) was held there, with about 100 people from all over the province in attendance.

“It was a great turnout,” says SLNFC executive director Barb Courtorielle. “A lot of great compliments.”

Board members from 17 Alberta friendship centres attended. Even a couple of people from the national association of friendship centres in Ottawa showed up.

Things kicked off on the Thursday with a ‘youth and elders gathering,’ which Courtorielle describes as “awesome.” It featured elders imparting knowledge to the young people. It began with a ceremonial smudge and a drum group.

Friday’s schedule included lots of meetings of various groups on friendship centre business. Saturday, among other things, saw two long-time volunteers honoured. One was an elder named Francis who had passed away after 30 years of volunteering. Another was a ‘blanket ceremony’ for Yvonne Oshanyk, who was retiring after 30 years as executive director of the Hinton Friendship Centre.

Another honoree was Butch L’Hirondelle, for his 30 years of service to the Slave Lake Friendship Centre.

Saturday evening featured a banquet, with the cooking presided over by chef Pat Potvin.

“He did a beautiful carrot cake with our logo on it,” says Courtorielle.

There was a gift exchange, and entertainment was provided by an Elvis Presley impersonator, plus Donny L’Hirondelle and the Rockin’ Fiddle band.

Sunday were the elections for executive members of the provincial association’s board. Making up the new executive are president Len Morissette, vice president Matthew Lavergne, treasurer Barb Courtorielle and secretary Valerie John Findlay.

Courtorielle says she got “great feedback” from many of the visitors. They were impressed by how well-maintained the Friendship Centre building is, for one thing, and were surprised that Courtorielle and her staff of five are able to keep it up so well, as well as run all the programs. Those who visited the beach were very impressed as well.

One unexpected cause of positive feedback was the signs the town has, directing people to the Friendship Centre.

“Everybody made that comment!” says Courtorielle.

The signs apparently worked better than a certain online location-finding service, because one fellow who showed up late said he had been directed onto the Old Smith Highway!

The four-day event was a big production for the Friendship Centre team. Courtorielle says besides her staff, five or six people from the provincial office helped out, plus half a dozen local volunteers.

“Long days!” she says.

Friendship Centre Executive Director Barb Courtorielle
The Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre received this painting by N. Desjarlais in recognition of its 50 years of service to the community.