Matthew Coon Come used his last public appearance as leader of Quebec's Cree Nation to issue a moving plea for the government to ensure basic human rights for Indigenous people.
Speaking at a provincial government inquiry into Indigenous relations, which he helped spearhead, the outgoing Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees said he is worried by how routine discrimination is in Quebec.
''The discrimination visited daily on Indigenous people so robs them of their dignity and self-respect, that some begin to believe they deserve no better,'' said Coon Come, who is stepping down after 40 years of public life.
He said some Indigenous communities are worse off than many developing world countries. He noted incarceration rates in Indigenous communities are among the highest in the world, and that Indigenous children are more likely to be victims of sexual assault than to graduate from high school.
Repairing the past
Coon Come also used his testimony to underline the need for Indigenous people to tell their stories of abuse.
''There can be no reconciliation until the victims are heard,'' he said.
The Cree leader shared his own memories of being taken from his home in Mistissini, Que. to a residential school in Ontario at the age of five or six.
He said RCMP officers went into the isolated town and flew off with all the children, not for the purpose of education but primarily ''to break their link to their culture and their identity.''
''Imagine me filling a form saying what do you want to be when you grow up,'' Coon Come said.
When he wrote he wanted to be a hunter, like his father, he was told that was not a profession.
''But the land is still the largest employer of my people today. My father still lives off the land. They didn't take that away,'' he said.
Overcrowding a major obstacle to peace
Coon Come said many of the issues within Cree communities derive from overcrowding, which affects 20% of households.
He says the absence of women's shelters and social programs often forces Cree people to head towards urban centres, where they risk homelessness and abuse.
The city of Val-d'Or, where the inquiry is taking place, has a significant Indigenous population from nearby Algonquin and Cree communities.
''Given its human cost, inaction is not an option.'' Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees
Coon Come expressed his hope that the inquiry would shed light on the 2015 allegations that Indigeneous women suffered abuse at the hands of provincial police officers.
He says training for Indigenous police officers, and alternative resources that can create bridges between law enforcement and Indigenous people, are urgently needed.
''Given its human cost, inaction is not an option,'' he said as he concluded his speech.