Stay the course or change direction is the question the chiefs in Quebec and Labrador will have to answer at the upcoming elections for the chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL).
The incumbent is Ghislain Picard, an Innu who has held the position since 1992.
“The main point is if the current method is producing results, why change it?” Picard said in French during an interview with APTN’s Nouvelles Nationales.
His opponent, Serge Otsi Simon, is the former grand chief of Kanesatake Mohawk Territory outside Montreal.
“I think I bring a different voice, sometimes a little forceful, but I think it’s needed,” said Simon.
While the two have collaborated over their years, they have different ideas of how to operate at a regional level.
Picard wants to hold the federal government accountable to their promises, including the one Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller made to return traditional lands to First Nations.
“It’s a promise that should be put to the test, and for me, that’s really something that I’m looking to do at the federal level,” said Picard.
Premier François Legault has also refused to acknowledge systemic racism.
Picard said he will continue to pressure the province to recognize and respect Indigenous legal initiatives.
“This is also one of AFNQL’s objectives, that is, continuing to emphasize these points at the level of systemic racism, despite the position of the Quebec government that is choosing to remain an outlier,” he said.
In November 2021, the AFNQL hosted the Grand Economic Circle of Indigenous People and Quebec. This is part of Picard’s efforts to further First Nations’ economic participation.
“First Nations also have the right to prosperity,” he said.
“I will certainly continue to raise awareness of the fact that there are socioeconomic disparities between our Peoples and the Quebecker and Canadian majority.”
While Picard wants to continue building on relationships and continuing the momentum he has gathered over his 30 years as regional chief, his opponent wants to try a new approach.
Simon envisions bringing nation-to-nation relationships to the international arena.
During his resistance to the Energy East pipeline, he realized he needed to get support outside of his community to really make an impact.
“I realized I couldn’t possibly fight this monster. And also with the consultation processes of Canada, were so unfair to First Nations people,” he said.
This movement against the Energy East pipeline culminated in the development of the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, which had 115 signatories.
“I’m convinced that the treaty was the final nail in Energy East’s coffin,” said Simon.
He later found out that the treaty could have been written into international law, which he hopes to do with future agreements between First Nations.
“This would be very helpful because no third party like Quebec or Canada can intervene in this treaty between us. So there’s opportunities there to exploit for the benefit of First Nations people, so on all fronts of trade amongst each other,” said Simon.
Both candidates want to foster a better understanding between First Nations and non-Indigenous Quebeckers.
“This is important because we’re facing serious political delays with the government, so why not turn towards the populations who elect those governments?” said Picard.
“I think between First Nations and the Quebec people, we can live side by side in peace and mutual equitability, but also, to form a just society for each one,” said Simon.
Regardless of the election outcome, Simon and Picard are looking forward to working together.
“Serge is someone I’ve always respected, and we’ve worked very closely together over the years,” said Picard.
“It’s an honour to even just stand in the same competition with Ghislain. So either way I’ve already won,” said Simon.
The Quebec and Labrador chiefs will elect their new regional chief on Jan. 25.