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First Nations leaders in Quebec appeal to public to join fight against systemic racism

One year after unveiling its own action plan to fight racism, the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) is calling on Quebecers to step up in the fight, saying the province is dragging its feet.

Government action is lacking, says Chief Ghislain Picard

Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, says many people and organizations have supported the AFNQL's action plan to fight racism since its unveiling, expressing willingness to act as allies of Indigenous people and  take concrete action. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

It's been exactly one year since the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) produced its own action plan to address racism and discrimination.

Today, the assembly appealed directly to Quebecers to engage in the fight, saying everyday people are part of a "wave of change" in favour of reconciliation, more so than the government of Quebec.

"To achieve the reconciliation that we are talking about these days, we call on citizens to engage in the fight against racism and discrimination toward First Nations people," said AFNQL Chief Ghislain Picard at a Wednesday news conference. 

He was joined by Adrienne Jérôme, chief of the Lac Simon First Nation and spokesperson for the AFNQL Council of Elected Women, and Nadia Robertson, another spokesperson for the council and councillor for the Micmac Nation of Gespeg in the Gaspé.

Spokesperson for the Council of Elected Women Nadia Robertson, left, Ghislain Picard, centre, and another spokesperson for the council Adrienne Jérôme say most Quebecers say the province needs to do more to fight racism against Indigenous people. (Simon Nakonechny/CBC News)

Last year, instead of waiting for the government to implement recommendations from three commissions, AFNQL introduced a plan consisting of 141 suggested actions on how individuals and organizations can get involved.

The action plan was announced one day after Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman, died in a hospital in Joliette, Que., after live streaming hospital staff mocking her while she cried for help. 

A sombre vigil to mark the one-year anniversary of her death was held yesterday, where leaders said issues of racism in health care persist. 

Quebec needs to step up 

Picard says many people and organizations have supported the AFNQL's action plan to fight racism since its unveiling, expressing willingness to act as allies of Indigenous people and to take concrete action.

The assembly is calling on Quebecers to participate in tomorrow's activities for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation and inviting people to take photos and videos of themselves showing their support and post them to social media.

However, Picard says he's not absolving the government of its responsibilities.

"Our call to civil society must not, however, obscure the responsibility of the Quebec government, which must necessarily do more to fight racism and discrimination, just as it must also do more for truth and reconciliation," he said.

Nadia Robertson says Indigenous people have spent years denouncing systemic racism in their community, and says the government refusing to call it what it is ignores the issue.  (Simon Nakonechny/CBC News)

Quebecers themselves, in a large proportion, believe that the government is not doing enough to fight racism and discrimination against Indigenous people, according to a poll conducted for the AFNQL.

In particular, Indigenous leaders want the government to adopt Joyce's Principle, a set of recommendations drafted by the Atikamekw community to guarantee health care for Indigenous people, free of discrimination.

Ian Lafrenière, the minister responsible for Indigenous affairs, said his government was "100 per cent" in favour of implementing the recommendations listed in the document. 

But the province won't accept Joyce's Principle in its entirety because of its mention of systemic racism. Lafrenière said his government doesn't use the term because it's "divisive" and half of the people refuse to listen when it's mentioned.

Counc. Robertson says Indigenous people have spent years denouncing systemic racism in their community, and that the government refusing to call it what it is ignores the issue. 

"How can we begin to fight something we won't even name?" she said. 

Picard says picking and choosing which parts of the recommendations to agree with denies the principle altogether. 

"Its not a principle you can pick apart and pick what pleases you," he said. "You take it as is."

With files from Simon Nakonechny

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