For the leaders of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL), Wednesday’s one-year update on their anti-racism action plan served as the ideal “bridge” between two high-profile events.
“Yesterday was the anniversary of the tragic death of Joyce Echaquan, and tomorrow we’re holding an important gathering to mark the 30th of September – a statutory holiday that puts truth and reconciliation at the forefront,” said Ghislain Picard, chief of the AFNQL.
Disappointed with the Quebec government’s attitude towards the September 30th holiday, as well as their enduring denials of the existence of systemic racism, Picard and other Indigenous leaders called their press conference to invite Quebecers to come forward in favour of reconciliation and the fight against discrimination.
“We need to do more as First Nations people in order to put out in the open the devastating impacts of racism and discrimination,”
The AFNQL’s action plan was tabled in late 2020 after Indigenous leaders called out Quebec for stalling in their response to the findings of several public commissions examining Indigenous issues.
While the province did eventually table their own anti-racism action plan, it was drafted without the participation of, or consultation with, Indigenous Peoples.
Since the release of both plans, Quebec has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in health care reform – but without explicit acknowledgement of systemic racism, leaders are still skeptical of the province’s commitment.
“How can you say that you will change things when you don’t recognize the problems?” asked Nadia Robertson of the AFNQL’s Council of Elected Women.
“Does that mean any impacts from racism or discrimination affects the rest of the world, but not Quebec? I find that hard to believe,” Picard added later on.
During Wednesday’s press conference, the AFNQL presented the results of a Leger poll of 1,000 Quebecers which Picard said demonstrates the population is well ahead of the government when it comes to their attitudes towards First Nations.
According to the poll, 76 per cent of Quebecers are ready to take action to fight racism and discrimination. In addition, a quarter of respondents said that their perception of Indigenous Peoples has improved in the last year.
“It gives us more energy – what we attempted to achieve over the last year: we need to stay the course,” Picard said.
“And to me, I find [the result] very convincing. We didn’t go back, we didn’t regress in terms of what needs to be done.”
But when asked if the government has taken significant action to fight racism and discrimination, close to half of respondents said they did not believe it had done enough.
Picard and other leaders believe a public outcry should help put pressure on the government to take the situation of Indigenous Peoples more seriously.
“We need a tsunami,” Robertson explained. “We need changes, we need to listen to these calls to action that we have.”
“[But] the first thing to do, to me, is to recognize the systemic racism.”
Meanwhile, the AFNQL is calling on Quebecers to participate in the March for Truth and Reconciliation to be held in Montreal on Thursday.
They’re encouraging Quebecers who want to be their allies to post a photo or video of themselves on social media with the hashtags #AgirContreLeRacisme and #PremièresNations.
A website and awareness campaign with more details on how to get involved in the anti-racism fight is soon to come, according to Picard.
But from the point of view of Adrienne Jerome, Lac Simon chief and member of the AFNQL’s council for women, the reconciliation process begins with personal reflection and critical thinking – whether you’re Indigenous or not.
“Reconciliation begins from within – this is important,” Jerome explained in French. “I commit to self-care, I commit to my cultural practices and ceremonies without being ashamed. Without being scared.”
“That’s reconciliation: making a commitment to ourselves.”
-With files from The Canadian Press