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PDIFC offers services to all not just Indigenous

Patrick Park-Tighe – Rene J. Roy, Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter PORT AUX BASQUES — As part of small business week, the People of the Dawn Indigenous Friendship Centre (PDIFC) held a presentation about diversity in the workplace. Patrick Park-Tighe, executive director of the PDIFC in Stephenville, lead the seminar at the Train Museum at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday evening, Oct. 19, to educate the attendees about how the PDIFC and the Chambers are connected and can support each other. Park-Tighe shared that he bounced around from job to job, taking vastly different programs in school, before doing a placement with the John Howard Society and falling in love with the work. “I started off working with young offenders, and then I went from there to working in group homes. So I worked in long term treatment homes. I worked in sex offender homes. I worked in whatever you could do in child service. I went from there to the school board, and I worked in behavioral support with that. So that one kid losing his mind in the back of the classroom, that was my kid, and I would deal with those fine young folks and love them to death,” said Park-Tighe. “Then I moved here about 18 years ago. So from there, I fell into employment counseling not long after the mill shut down in Stephenville, which gave me a good sort of introduction to the area and how things work. Then I went from there to working again with youth and homelessness and addictions, and my last gig before taking over when the Friendship Center started was actually John Howard counseling men about intimate partner violence.” In 2008, the Bay St. George Cultural Circle began trying to revive some of the Mi’kmaq traditions and culture in the area, and by 2017, they wanted to become a part of the friendship centres, and after a very rigorous process, were approved. “I have been the executive director since. I’m not Indigenous, I don’t identify as an Indigenous person, but the entire staff’s Indigenous, the board’s Indigenous. I’ve served the Indigenous Community,” said Park-Tighe. “There are three friendship centres in the province. There’s St. John’s, us (Stephenville) and Happy Valley-Goose Bay. We’re the latest and greatest now. We’re six years now going. There’s about 110 friendship centres all across Canada, north, east to west, and they’ve been around for 50 years, some of the individual centers longer than that. So they were basically established for folks moving out of reserves for rural areas, moving into cities for opportunities, and so these folks would move into those areas with no friends, no family, no culture, so a friendship center was there to introduce them to the community, to help them find work, a place to live, hook them up with schools, all that kind of stuff. So years later we do the same thing. Our priority is always Indigenous people, but we help anybody who comes through the door.” To bring forward solutions and supports within the community, PDIFC tries to partner with other bands and First Nations. “What makes it challenging, though, is when you have individuals and agendas that don’t always line up with each other and that’s where you get some of the competition, and for us, we have a term for that also when it gets to the extreme, which is lateral violence, and that means you are getting harm from your own people,” said Park-Tighe. “In the Indigenous space right now, there has been a certain amount of funding that’s available and that has gotten a lot of people pretty worked up to try and get their piece of the pie, and unfortunately, the feeling seems to be, that for me to get a bigger piece of the pie, yours is going to have to be smaller. The suggestion I have — and I don’t think anybody’s going to take me up on this for a while — is why can’t we work together and just make a bigger pie? You want a bigger piece, make a bigger pie, but that doesn’t seem to be sort of where we are right now.” As a smaller organization, PDIFC excels in areas that larger groups may not. “We can kind of pivot and try things that maybe bigger organizations don’t. Qalipu is very much an administrative band, so they’ve got millions of dollars that they administer around education and training and that kind of stuff, but some of the more small things that might make a difference on an individual basis, those are things that we can do, sometimes a little bit better than they can,” said Park-Tighe. “And it’s not that they can’t do it or aren’t trying, but it’s just we are positioned a little bit easier to do that, and being non-status is a big part of that.” With the Mi’kmaq culture being so suppressed over the years, PDIFC is doing their part to bring some of that culture back. “That denial, that suppression, has hurt people, a lot of people, and with that has come abuse. With that has come poverty. With that has come a lack of opportunity, and that comes out in the way people act, the way people think, the way they interact. So what we’re trying to do while we’re helping people with some of life’s basics, like, where do they live, what do they eat, is trying to bring back some of that culture in a respectful way. But it’s a challenge because there’s a lot of stuff there that we’re filling in the blanks.” While the PDIFC is based out of Stephenville, their assistance could reach into other areas. “So for us, it’s like technically, west coast, anything happening on the West Coast, for us, it’s a matter f resources. Can I get a staff person there? What does it cost me to have them there? Do I have to keep them there overnight? How’s that going to look? And we’re trying to do that because we’ve seen that. And that’s one thing about when you talk about the competition in Bay St. George, there’s a lot of competition, but sometimes it’s for the low hanging fruit, which means it’s the easy stuff that you can pull off, and it’s the easy money,” said Park-Tighe. “There’s nobody else doing HIV testing because it’s not very nice. It’s not glamorous. There’s nobody else driving around giving out needles and crack pipes and dental dams to people because it’s not great. It’s not a nice thing, but these are things that need to be done, and to me, those are upstream interventions. So if I’m giving you something now for you to use a clean needle so you’re not getting Hepatitis C, that’s going to cost this amount of money through the hospital, then it’s worth giving you a 60-cent needle. But coming to other regions is one of those things that I don’t know that everybody else is jumping on either, because there’s logistics. There’s money attached to that.” Along with the less-glamorous work, PDIFC hosts yearly events, including the Sweetgrass Festival. One of the most important parts about delivering many programs and initiatives is human contact. “There was a committee set up, a Community Drug Response Committee, and it was just some local doctors, I think, from the Women’s Centre and a few others, and we got invited to sit on it. We got to do this needle exchange thing because Corner Brook was bringing a van into town and dropping off supplies, but then the wheels fell off their van and they started mailing stuff out. The problem with the mail outs is that there’s no human interaction anymore. So people are going in the mailbox going, ‘thanks’, and that was it, so they wanted to get that human piece back in,” said Park-Tighe. This and many other issues such as poverty and homelessness, have been exacerbated by COVID and the high cost of living. “People can’t afford to buy food because the prices are going up and their cheque is not getting any bigger. Those stresses play out in the household. So check your police stats and see where things are at. I think across Canada, violent crime is up 18 per cent,” said Park Tighe. “Between COVID and the price of everything and all this, we’re all going closer into unwellness. We’re all walking around with like a low-grade flu all the time because we’re always a little bit anxious, we’re always a little bit depressed, and that’s because of the world around us, and then that trickles down into everything else. It could be more days off on government workers because you just can’t face going in another day. So all of that stuff, it’s like one big spider web. None of us are separate from each other just because I’m in nonprofit and you guys are in government or you guys are in private industry. It all connects.” Sometimes people who need the most help are the ones may not be the most kind, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve help. “Those are the folks, more than anything, that we’ve got to reach out to, because if you’re running a business and you’re getting broken into once a month and half your stock is getting stolen, so somebody can palm it off for $50, $1,000 worth of merchandise, you need my help,” said Park-Tighe. “Those are the folks that I’m going to be able to get towards programs and keep them out of crisis. All of these issues, all of these social issues that we’re dealing with, there’s not one cause. There’s not one solution. It’s a bunch of different things. That’s why we talk about wraparound services, so you can’t help someone with addictions if you’re not helping them with housing and all the other pieces. So it’s a lot of work and it’s exciting, but it does get tougher, just like it gets tougher to run a business depending on what’s happening in the world around you.”

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