It was in this day In 1992 that I started my first real job in an office, beginning work as a policy analyst at the National Association of Friendship Centres in Ottawa.
I can remember that day vividly. It was a lovely warm morning in Ottawa and I even remember wearing a light purple collared shirt (it was the early 1990s) and carrying my lunch in a newly purchased MEC fabric briefcase that served me for many years.
The NAFC was small at that time, just an Executive Director, Jerome Berthelette, a financial guy, Brian Stinson, our office manager Mel Maracle, Molly LaFontaine who was the receptionist and EA to Jerome and Marc Maracle who was in charge of different projects. I think my first day was Jerome’s last and Terry Doxtator started the same day I did as Executive Director.
As a student I worked as a researcher for David Newhouse at Trent University and the NAFC was the subject of a set of case studies we wrote on Indigenous-Government program negotiations. Through the work and the material I used in my honours thesis on organizational development I got to know the staff and when I moved to Ottawa with Caitlin in 1991 Marc gave me a chance to come and work for the organization.
Lots was going on in Ottawa at that time. There were events marking the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s journey with many amazing shows and exhibits and productions on Indigenous resistance. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People was at work and we contributed research and testimony to that. The Charlottetown Accord negotiations were dominating the policy discussions in the city and the talk of what it means to implement Constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights in Canada was everywhere. The fallout from the Oka crisis was on everybody’s mind and the fading years of the Mulroney government and subsequent transition to the Chrétien government threw up many policy challenges and a few key opportunities to our movement.
I worked there for two and a half years. It formed so much of what I went on to do for the rest of my life. I was grateful for the learning I got in the job in facilitating collaborative policy making processes. It was exciting to be in Ottawa during historic constitutional discussions – watching the first draft of the Charlottetown Accord come over our fax machine! – and I got to contribute to things like the Royal Commission, the establishment of the Aboriginal Head Start Program and the renewal and restructuring of the Friendship Centre core funding program.
Thirty years is a long time. And the blink of an eye. And I’m grateful these many years later for all the guidance and support I received as a young guy starting out. I’m proud to still call myself a Friendship Centre supporter and that movement will always have my heart and thanks for helping me get going in the world.