Quebec unveils new action plan for Indigenous people

·3 min read
Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière, left, is seen shaking hands with Richard O'Bomsawin, the chief of the Abenaki Council of Odanak on Friday.  (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière, left, is seen shaking hands with Richard O'Bomsawin, the chief of the Abenaki Council of Odanak on Friday. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The Quebec government unveiled its new action plan for First Nations and Inuit people on Friday. The province will invest $141.1 million over the next five years, double what it allocated in its previous plan.

This new plan focuses specifically on Indigenous cultures and languages and the unique challenges faced by Indigenous women.

"These are issues that are long past overdue," said Richard O'Bomsawin, chief of the Abenaki Council of Odanak during a joint news conference with Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière.

O'Bomsawin said the plan looks promising, but he warned that money alone isn't enough for it to succeed. "The key to the words 'action plan' is action."

"My biggest concern always on these programs is that money gets eaten up in administration, by new curtains on a wall."

Some examples of concrete measures include investing in community radio stations and providing emergency financial assistance to victims of violence. Specific funding will also go toward targeting issues unique to Inuit people, such as providing funding for early childhood educators to work in Nunavik.

The plan lays out 52 measures and mobilizes 13 different ministries and organizations. The province will hold yearly consultations with First Nations and Inuit people as it implements it, according to Lafrenière.

Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada
Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada

Language rights a key concern

Lafrenière said this new plan is a result of nearly a year of consultations with the 55 Indigenous communities in Quebec.

The minister said Bill 96, his government's proposed language law, was an especially contentious issue during these visits.

"I heard many communities stating that they were concerned about what's going to happen for the future," he said. "My intention is to work with them."

Lafrenière said he is confident that his government can work on protecting the French language while also preserving Indigenous ones.

He promised to find solutions to make sure that happens but declined to provide any additional details until he had more time to discuss with Indigenous leaders.

Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada
Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada

O'Bomsawin said he wants to see concrete actions on that front.

"If my language and my culture is so important, will [the government] translate all [its] documents into my language so my people can understand it?"

He said when he asked government officials this question on Friday morning, "they weren't too sure."

Cautious optimism

This new action plan comes nearly three years after the Viens Commission report documented systemic discrimination against Indigenous people in the province.

While the funding is helpful, it is important to remain realistic about how much can be achieved in just five years, said Phillippe Tsaronsere Meilleur, the executive director of Native Montreal and the president of Quebec's Native Friendship Centres association.

"The needs are huge, we're talking about 400, 500 years of colonization, systemic racism, all sorts of institutional harms," he said.

Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada
Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada

Meilleur said "massive changes" are still needed at all levels of governments and will take generations to happen.

He said one aspect that's not fully addressed in the plan is building more housing for Indigenous people. He said he also wants to see more work done to improve Indigenous health.

"I believe that this is going to be the change that we need," said Ellen Filippelli, the executive director of the First Peoples Justice Centre of Montreal and a Mohawk from Kanesatake.

Filippelli said she was particularly hopeful about the plan's focus on Indigenous women.

"We're going to hold the government to their promises," she said.

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