On Friday, the Quebec government announced its 141.1-million-dollar action plan for First Nations and Inuit over the next five years.
The plan, titled “Together for Future Generations: 2022-2027 Government Action Plan for the Social and Cultural Wellness of the First Nations and Inuit,” involves 13 government departments and bodies. The budget breakdown was not released at Friday’s press conference.
Quebec’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs Ian Lafrenière said this plan is the by-product of his 11-month tour of the 55 indigenous communities in Quebec.
“Priority one, the first pillar for us will be language and culture. Priority two will be women’s [issues]. I say one and two, it could be two and one, but those two priorities are so important for us … because while I was touring in Quebec in different communities, it was brought to my attention that we need to put more attention to that,” said Lafrenière.
The plan breaks down into six themes: culture, Indigenous languages, and reconciliation; issues and challenges facing Indigenous women; the overall development of children and families; the health and wellness of Indigenous people; socioeconomic conditions and social inclusion; and justice and public security measures.
Despite an emphasis on preserving Indigenous languages, the plan does not make any specific promises with regard to Bill-96, Quebec’s contentious French language protection law that provoked an outcry from First Nations and Inuit across the province.
Lafrenière reiterated that the bill does not come into effect for another two years, and promised to find solutions with concerned Indigenous communities before then.
“We can protect French as well as we can protect different languages from First Nations, and this is my commitment today,” said Lafrenière.
Among other things, funds will go towards promoting Indigenous radio, providing emergency financial assistance for domestic violence victims and promoting Indigenous languages in the province.
Inuit-specific measures, like enhancing access to justice in Nunavik, were also announced. Additional funding will be added as needed over the 2022-2027 period.
Odanak Chief Richard O’Bomsawin said this marks a shift in relations between First Nations and the government.
“I believe that it is time that the Quebec government works with us. And this is living proof that things can work. There’s a lot of good in this. We need to put it in practice. We need to work hard,” said O’Bomsawin.
A new element to the plan: consultations with Indigenous communities will be held every year to evaluate and update the government’s strategy.
“What I think is good about this plan is we won’t have to wait five years to say we want to change a project because the reality has changed, we won’t have to wait to ask to sit down and make the plan or program more flexible. There are more possibilities,” said Marjolaine Étienne, president of Quebec Native Women.
O’Bomsawin said this is a new action plan will make it easier to access government support.
“The biggest problem with the old plan was the red tape. The hoops you had to jump through to get through these plans. And in this plan, that’s what we’re trying to eliminate. We’re trying to make the accessibility a little bit easier than it was before,” said O’Bomsawin.
“In the end, it takes a lot of hard work from both sides. We both have to work very hard together. We have to stay open minded, we have to stay focused on what the issues are. The issues are definitely culture, language, women,” he added.
“They are the top priority things. But in five years from now, if we’re still sitting in the same place, not only did they not do their job, but we didn’t do ours.”