Citing a fractured relationship with the provincial government and frustrated by Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s government’s lack of engagement on pressing issues for Indigenous people in Quebec and Labrador, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL) will set up a governance secretariat whose mandate is to assert First Nations’ rights to self-government, they announced last week.
AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard said the provincial government has “stalled” on addressing First Nations on a nation-to-nation basis and that it has broken promises it made to the Indigenous community it made early on in its mandate.
“We have seen the door is far from open to us. In fact, it is completely closed,” Picard said in a press conference in a downtown Montreal hotel late last week. “We are governments, and we have to be treated in the same fashion. (The government) are acting completely opposed to what they said they would do. There has been so much stalling on their part, and we know what that implies.”
Picard cited a recent meeting with Legault where the AFNQL was allowed 15 minutes with the Premier and limited to a paltry three questions.
“And then he had time to come out here and spent 45 minutes with you people,” Picard said, gesturing to gathered media.
That level of disrespect is endemic to First Nations’ relationships with Legault’s government, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennehawe Sky-Deer said.
“The days of not being equal are passed,” she said. “I have been so frustrated since my election (in dealing with the provincial government). But what we are seeing with Bill 96 is very frustrating. Our identities are solidified and we are looking to a different future that’s coming,” for Indigenous people in Quebec and Labrador.
The AFNQL secretariat will conduct studies in self-administration, pool resources on self-government, legislative powers and the rights to self-determination and advise Indigenous communities on its capacity to create its own laws and determine its own capacity to protect its language and culture.
Work will start immediately, Picard said.
“Exercising this right of self-determination is not an action against Quebecers and Canadians. Rather, it is an action taken by and for us, for our nations and communities. This is a legitimate takeover of responsibilities that our ours, as elected officials and governments of our nations,” he added.
Picard cited Article 4 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People cites the rights of Indigenous governments to form their own laws and exercise their rights to preserve their languages and cultures.
“The affirmation of our rights will be a powerful lever to ensure respect for our principles and our rights to the territory,” Picard said.
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase