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Meet Montreal's commissioner of Indigenous affairs

Marie-Ève Bordeleau is a little more than a week into her new job as commissioner of Indigenous affairs for the city of Montreal. She said the position is a perfect fit for who she is both professionally and personally.

Marie-Ève Bordeleau says she will work to develop a holistic reconciliation plan for the city

Marie-Ève Bordeleau says helping the city implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is a key part of her three-year mandate. (Submitted by Marie-Ève Bordeleau)

Montreal's newly minted commissioner of Indigenous affairs, Marie-Ève Bordeleau, says the job is a tailor-made mix of who she is both professionally and personally.

"I'm from a mixed family. My mother is not First Nations and my father is Cree," said Bordeleau, who grew up between Montreal and Senneterre, in the Abitibi region of Quebec, in a house where reconciliation was worked on daily.

"I think (my parents) showed me that both people can be together, live together and be in peace," said Bordeleau. Her father is Georges Pisimopeo of Waswanipi and mother is Quebecoise author and producer Lucie Lachapelle.

"At home when I was younger, we had non-Indigenous people coming over, Inuit and First Nations. I grew up in that kind of environment."

Bordeleau is a little more than a week into her new job as commissioner of Indigenous affairs for the city of Montreal — a job that is the first of its kind in Canada. 

She will lead the city's reconciliation strategy and help it implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

She says helping the city implement UNDRIP is a key part of her three-year mandate.

"UNDRIP really states the principles that should guiding most of our governments, in Canada but (also) across the world," said Bordeleau, who is trained as a lawyer and mediator.

"If the city really works toward promoting and implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it will really benefit the reconciliation process."

Mayor says city needs to 'build bridges'

Mayor Valérie Plante says Bordeleau's work is a priority for her administration.

"We need to build bridges between First Nations and the municipal government," said Plante, whose administration begins each meeting of the municipal council with reference to unceded Indigenous territory on which the elected representatives meet.

Last September, former Montreal mayor Denis Coderre unveiled a new flag and coat of arms, with a white pine tree at its centre, as a symbol of Indigenous contribution to the city.
In September, former Montreal mayor Denis Coderre unveiled a new flag and coat of arms, with a white pine tree at its centre, to reflect Indigenous contribution to the city. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

"But we needed to do more," said Plante, adding Bordeleau is the perfect choice because she "has always worked for reconciliation between peoples."

'Reconciliation also means collective healing'

Bordeleau says she will be working to develop a holistic reconciliation plan for the city that will include working with many departments, including public security, social services, health and arts, to name a few.

Bordeleau will also be organizing training for different city employees on Indigenous peoples and history in Montreal.

"Montreal is showing such a strong leadership position," said Bordeleau.

Indigenous people make up less than one cent of the Montreal's population, but make up more than 10 percent of Montreal's homeless population according to the city's first official homelessness census done in 2015. 

"I know that it's going to be a huge challenge, and I know there is a lot to do. but I'm ready for it," said Bordeleau. "To me reconciliation also means collective healing."

Inspired by the past 

"I mean, we all have to be growing together. We have to be healing together."

Bordeleau believes her skills as a mediator will help her in her new responsibilities.

She says throughout her life she has witnessed injustices against Indigenous people in Montreal, Quebec and near Senneterre — where she spent summers at a family cabin without electricity or running water at Lac Tiblemont, about 30 kilometres from the town. 
Marie-Ève Bordeleau spent summers at a family cabin at Lac Tiblemont, about 30 kilometres from Senneterre. It didn't have electricity or running water, and is still a place that is an important part of how she identifies herself. (Submitted by Marie-Ève Bordeleau)

The cabin is still a place that is an important part of how she identifies herself.

Furthermore, she says the anger she felt as she witnessed injustice and racism fuelled her to do something about it. 

The 36-year-old most recently ran a mobile mediation clinic for Indigenous people with Mohawk lawyer, Martha Montour.

"I believe in reconciliation and I believe in alternative justice," said Bordeleau.

After graduating law school, Bordeleau spent six months volunteering with the Pacific Centre for Public Integrity, an non-governmental organization working with Indigenous people in Fiji.

She said that experience was key in helping her focus her professional goals toward helping Indigenous people.