An issue with federal funding is looming like a dark cloud over the Conayt Friendship Society in Merritt — one that threatens to close the aboriginal service centre unless a solution is reached soon.

While the Conayt Friendship Society has existed decades, and receives funding from a variety of provincial and federal sources, a key piece of the centre’s operating budget is still up in the air, said executive director Teressa Nahanee.

“We can stay afloat in Merritt probably a few months with this uncertainty,” explained Nahanee.

“But a lot of the other friendship centres are not going to be able to do that.”

The funding issue stems from changes made by the Harper government to the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs in 2014, said Nahanee.

Friendship centres across Canada — which provide shelter, support, programming and guidance to indigenous men and women who do not live in their traditional communities — used to receive federal funding through a program known as the Aboriginal Friendship Centre Program.

In 2014, that program was eliminated by the Conservative government, and split into two new programs with specific mandates: the Urban Partnerships program, and the Community Capacity Support — both aimed at increasing participation in the economy for Aboriginal people.

“We’re getting about another 500 patients from the doctors — so we do provide health services,” said Nahanee.

Unlike the previous funding arrangement, the two new programs (UP and CCS) do not provide funding specific to Friendship centres — of which there are 25 across B.C. Instead, programs applying for funding must meet specific criteria laid down by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

And even that criteria is changing, said Carl Mashon, general manager of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.

“[Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada] are attempting to remove all specific elements in the criteria and guidelines that speak to Friendship Centre strengths,” he said in a press release dated May 2.

“We’re borrowing money internally to pay for our finance director,” explained Nahanee. “You can have all sorts of programming, but without a finance manager, it’s pretty hard to keep the doors open.”

The Conayt Friendship Society was founded in 1968, and has since expanded its role as a social services provider — the centre now has a nurse practitioner on staff, and runs pre—natal programs for expectant mothers, as well as assisting those in need with low—income housing.

And since the departure of two of Merritt’s family doctors, the centre is seeing a huge increase in traffic.

“We’re getting about another 500 patients from the doctors — so we do provide health services,” said Nahanee.

But the future of the service provider is — for now — up in the air.

“There is two programs — our core funding and youth employment money. We’ve had no word on the continuation of that program yet. Last year we got about $89,000 and we put a lot of our aboriginal youth into skills training for the mining industry and lumber and all of that. We’re hoping for some good news, but we haven’t heard anything about that.”