The Anicinape community of Kitcisakik in western Quebec and the federal government have signed a framework agreement to formalize their nation-to-nation relationship.
“The framework agreement that we’re signing today is an important step for all the partners here to advance a word that often rolls easily off people’s lips called ‘reconciliation’. But it’s a road map or a game plan for the next steps for your community,” said federal Indigenous-Crown Relations Minister Marc Miller.
The agreement, signed on May 26, is meant to bring into action the principals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, enshrined into federal law in 2021.
Miller said the agreement “sets out a number of elements that Chief [Régis] Penosway highlighted, notably land management, self-reliance, economic development, the protection of your territory and culture and rights.”
The minister travelled to Kitcisakik, about 400 kms northwest of Ottawa, to sign the agreement, where he saw on-the-ground conditions that the 250 community members were facing: no running water and no electricity.
“For me, having a minister here, it’s important for the community to see the conditions we’re living in. Despite all that, we need to recognize that our community members, there’s a strong resilience facing the situation we’re living in right now,” said Penosway of the Kitcisakik band council in French.
Penosway has been chief of the community for about six years and has been lobbying the federal government and the Quebec government to address Kitcisakik’s needs.
As Kitcisakik never signed a treaty agreement with Canada, Miller said this agreement will ensure they’ll meet more frequently.
“Being human, sometimes it takes more than sporadic meetings here and there, really what’s needed is agreements to document our relationship in the future,” said Miller in French.
According to government officials, high groundwater levels make it nearly impossible to dig into the ground to build necessary infrastructure for plumbing and hydro, so the council has made the decision to relocate Kitcisakik – which was not unanimous, said Penosway.
The chief hopes the framework agreement will speed up the moving process and their eventual access to essential services.
“I think it’s a decision that calls to the community to discuss the new location and so on, and after that, the two pillars of government are now conscious that the development of that portfolio, it’s one of the priorities,” said Penosway in French.
While the Quebec government isn’t involved in this agreement, Hydro Québec, a province-owned corporation, has committed to hooking the community up to electricity by 2025.
In a statement emailed to APTN, a spokesperson for Quebec’s Indigenous affairs ministry said they were looking to “bring UNDRIP to life via agreements” in the near future.
Penosway said he is hopeful that this agreement with the feds is a new beginning.
“We’ve had our share of frustrations, but we didn’t let those frustrations stop us from coming to a really good agreement,” said Penosway.