For Edith Cloutier, receiving the Prix de la Justice for her work on behalf of Indigenous people in Quebec was a particular honour.
"Justice for Indigenous people is what I've been striving for all my life," said Cloutier, the director general of the Val-d'Or Native Friendship Centre.
She received the award on Tuesday in a ceremony in Quebec City with the provincial Minister of Justice Stéphanie Vallée.
Cloutier is the 25th person to receive the Prix de la Justice since it was created in 1991 to recognize Quebecers who have promoted justice in the province.
Cloutier has been at the helm of the Val-d'Or Native Friendship Centre for 28 years and was a key figure helping Indigenous women in that city come forward with allegations of abuse at the hands of provincial police officers in 2015.
She was also instrumental, along with Indigenous leaders from across Quebec, in successful efforts to get a provincial inquiry set up. The inquiry looks into systemic racism in the province — otherwise known as the Commission Viens, named after retired Quebec Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens, who is presiding over the hearings.
"I want to share this award first with the Indigenous women of Val-d'Or," said Cloutier.
"[They have] triggered major transformation in how the government is now seeing its responsibility towards Aboriginal people in Quebec."
Cloutier says she also wants to share the award with other First Nations leaders who fought so hard at her side for the creation of the commission, and also those who supported the Val-d'Or women who came forward.
She said they took a strong stand for these women who were "excluded and invisible in all the systems, including First Nations systems."
'Unique and special type of person'
One of the Indigenous leaders who pushed for the inquiry was Matthew Coon Come, then grand chief of the James Bay Cree Nation. The Grand Council of the Crees issued a statement this week congratulating Cloutier on her award.
"It takes a unique and special type of person who makes great personal sacrifices to create an environment where the most vulnerable of our society feel safe," said the news release.
"Reconciliation is not possible without people like Edith Cloutier."
Cloutier says she hopes Indigenous people across Quebec fully engage with the Commission Viens and the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
She says only then will the poverty, exclusion and systemic violence Indigenous people face stand a chance of being acknowledged by the provincial and federal governments.