“Our demands are not new. We have always been making them known, perhaps too quietly, perhaps too politely”
No matter who wins the Oct. 1 election, the relationship between First Nations and Quebec’s government will have to be “entirely revisited.”
That’s what the chief who represents 43 Indigenous communities inside Quebec and Labrador’s borders wrote Wednesday in a letter to the province’s four main party leaders.
“Our demands are not new. We have always been making them known, perhaps too quietly, perhaps too politely,” wrote Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec and Labrador.
The letter, obtained by the Montreal Gazette, comes on the eve of the first leaders’ debate in an election campaign that has largely skirted issues that face the 100,000 Indigenous Peoples living in Quebec.
Picard is demanding “concrete commitments” on five points:
- A commitment by the next government to help fund or expand on-reserve police forces to deal with Canada’s upcoming legal cannabis market. Most of the province’s reserves have their own police departments, but budgets for officer salaries, equipment and training are much lower than in non-Indigenous communities.
- For the National Assembly to adopt a bill “designating the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the guide for all measures regarding First Nations.” The federal government signed the declaration last year, but chiefs across Canada argue that consultation on pipeline projects and mining activities violate the nature of the agreement.
- For the Quebec government to play a role in enacting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s “calls to action.” The 94 recommendations are meant to fight systemic racism and poverty and improve living conditions for Indigenous Peoples. Though Ottawa has committed to following through on the recommendations, most remain unmet.
- For Quebec to partner with First Nations on economic development projects to help lift communities from poverty. The AFQL has advocated for the government to support Apuit — a wind farm in Côte Nord that would generate electricity and revenue for Innu communities and neighbouring cities.
- For the province to get the Viens Commission back on track. The commission — launched after explosive allegations that police in Val-d’Or sexually abused Indigenous women — was meant to explore the treatment of Indigenous Peoples by the Quebec government. But its two main prosecutors resigned last week citing “personal reasons.” Picard wrote that the commission’s report must lead to “concrete proposals” to improve the relations between Indigenous Peoples and Quebec institutions.
So far, the Parti Québécois and Québec solidaire have pledged to meet with the AFNQL within the first 100 days of a new parliamentary session. Meanwhile, the Coalition Avenir Québec and Liberals each committed to more meetings with First Nations and Inuit leaders.
Three of the four major parties support the Apuit wind farm, though the CAQ said it opposes the project because it doesn’t seem economically viable.
In the first week of campaigning, PQ vice-chief Véronique Hivon said she would like to see a bipartisan commission on high suicide rates and housing conditions in Quebec’s 14 Inuit communities.
“Until now, it has been too easy for successive governments to turn a deaf ear and direct their attention elsewhere,” Picard wrote. “The AFQL has a duty to refuse evasive answers and demand of you concrete commitments.”