Ceremony in Quebec will commemorate Indigenous children who died in province's hospitals

·2 min read
Families will gather in northern Quebec to commemorate Indigenous children who died or went missing while seeking treatment in Quebec hospitals. (Jean-Claude/Taliana - image credit)
Families will gather in northern Quebec to commemorate Indigenous children who died or went missing while seeking treatment in Quebec hospitals. (Jean-Claude/Taliana - image credit)

At sunrise Monday, more than a hundred people intend to meet at Lac Decelles near the city of La Tuque, Haute Mauricie, Que. to commemorate Indigenous children who died or disappeared in a provincial hospital.

The event is organized by members of the Manawan community and Awacak, a coalition of 50 families whose children died or went missing while in the care of Quebec health-care institutions. The group pushed for the adoption of Bill 79.

Now law, the legislation aims to make hospital records more accessible for families looking to understand what happened to their relatives between the 1950s and 1990s after they sought health care.

On June 8, Ian Lafrenière, Quebec's Indigenous affairs minister, appointed Anna Panasuk, a former Radio-Canada investigative reporter, to the position of special advisor, where she will take part in the creation of a support system within the Indigenous Affairs Ministry to assist families searching for documents related to missing relatives.

Attendees of the ceremony will include Lafrenière, Ghislain Picard, the Quebec and Labrador regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations and Viviane Michel, president of Quebec Native Women.

Michel says rituals performed will focus on healing. The event will open with a flag ceremony, led by Charles Coocoo, an elder of Wemotaci. During a procession, families will also be invited to leave a significant object in memory of each of the children.

"It's an important moment for them," Michel said. "I think it's really good for [the families] to gather to support each other and to have hope and get answers."

Most attendees from Atikamekw, Anishinaabe and Innu families intend to spend four days at the ceremony called "Mikoweritamihiwewin."

One of the organizers, Pierre-Paul Niquay, says some families will even arrive from Pakua Shipu, a community located near Blanc-Sablon, in the Côte-Nord.

In an interview, Manon Massé, head of Québec solidaire, for which she is also spokesperson for Indigenous affairs, said she would be invited, after being invited by Niquay.

"It's important that there are witnesses, because it is the people of my nation who have done wrong. I am ready to act as a witness if it can help their healing," she said.

Liberal MP Gregory Kelley, also the official opposition critic for Indigenous affairs, said a scheduling conflict would prevent him from attending the event, but he has prepared a video which will be screened instead.

"We have done our best with the bill to make sure it reflects what the Indigenous people are asking for," he said.

"The search for the truth is not over. It's just a first step."

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