Electoral riding reform in northern Quebec, caribou management and overcrowded housing are among key issues that will be discussed as part of a new permanent forum being created by the Cree, Inuit and Naskapi Nations in the province.
A signing ceremony is planned Friday in Gatineau to formalize the forum that leaders hope will lead to better collaboration on common interests and challenges, as well as greater influence with provincial and federal governments.
"It is really important for us to stand united," said Mandy Gull-Masty, Grand Chief of the Cree Nation, who will be one of the signatories of the memorandum of understanding (MOU).
"We're really seeking to bring our voices together and to bring forward that pressure and that support as nations to fight for what we need."
The other signatories of the MOU are Pita Aatami, president of Makivik Corporation and Theresa Chemaganish, Chief of the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, located near Schefferville, a fly-in only community about 1,200 kilometres northeast of Montreal.
The electoral riding that we fall under does not favour Indigenous people. - Carson Tagoona, Makivik Corp. spokesperson
"The electoral riding that we fall under collectively does not favour Indigenous people," said Carson Tagoona, spokesperson for the Makivik Corporation, in an email response to a request for information. Makivik is the political body representing the 14 Inuit communities across the Nunavik region of northern Quebec.
The way the electoral maps are drawn, both provincially and federally, make it difficult for an Indigenous candidate to win, he said.
The federal riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eyou is the largest riding in Quebec and the third largest in Canada, covering a geographical area the size of Pakistan, but it has rarely been represented by an Indigenous candidate.
The exception was when the NDP's Romeo Saganash won in 2011 and again in 2015, but it has otherwise been represented by non-Indigenous MPs.
"Our population is too small and as a result we are unable to get an aboriginal representative in the Canadian Parliament or the National Assembly," Tagoona said, adding that it is one of the main issues Makivik wants to see addressed through the permanent forum.
Provincially, the Ungava riding, which was created in 1981, has never had Indigenous representation.
Indigenous Affairs minister welcomes forum
A spokesperson for Quebec's minister of Indigenous Affairs, Ian Lafrenière, said they welcome the creation of the permanent forum and look forward to working with it on important issues in the "perspective of our nation-to-nation agreements."
As part of the MOU, the leaders have agreed to meet at least three times a year to discuss issues, share information and look for ways to improve collaboration.
One of the key issues for the Cree Nation is caribou management, according to Gull-Masty.
"Our relationships with the caribou are quite similar culturally," she said, adding that all three nations think both provincial and federal governments could better manage the caribou file.
Recently, federal environment minister Steven Guilbeault threatened to step in and impose measures if Quebec failed to come up with a plan to adequately protect Woodland caribou species, located east of Val d'Or, and its natural habitat by April 20.
Gull-Masty also said that greater collaboration will mean cost savings and improved economic development for northern Quebec.
A request for comment to the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach was not returned in time for publication.