Indigenous rights 'non-issue' in provincial election campaign
Activist Ellen Gabriel closes testimonies at MMIWG inquiry
The political parties running to form the next provincial government have failed to address the needs of Indigenous people in the provincial elections campaign, commissioners at the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women heard today.
''It's a non-issue in these elections. It's about energy security, it's about economics, but it comes from our land," Ellen Gabriel said.
Gabriel, an artist from Kanesatake and former president of Quebec Native Women, became a spokesperson for Mohawk protesters during the 1990 Oka Crisis — the 78-day standoff between Mohawks, the Sûréte du Québec and the Canadian military over the town of Oka's plan to expand a municipal golf course on contested land.
She said little has changed in the 28 years that followed.
"Regardless of the year of the election, the problems remain the same for us," Gabriel said.
Self-determination, language and land rights are still far removed from any of the political platforms, she said.
The Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard, has also been trying to call attention to governance over the past few weeks.
As they prepare for tonight’s debate I invite <a href="https://twitter.com/phcouillard?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@phcouillard</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/ManonMasse_Qs?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ManonMasse_Qs</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/francoislegault?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@francoislegault</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/JFLisee?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JFLisee</a> to present how they propose to renew the govt2govt relationship with <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FirstNations?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FirstNations</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/elections2018?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#elections2018</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/polqc?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#polqc</a>—@picardghislain
Picard has been tweeting to parties ahead of the three televised debates, asking the leaders to explain how they would "renew the government to government relationship with First Nations."
"The Quebec government can no longer hide behind the federal government to avoid its obligations towards First Nations", Picard said in a statement.
Focus stays on energy projects
If elected, the Liberals would finalize an agreement with three Innu communities and Boralex Inc., to generate 200 megawatts of electricity on Quebec's North Shore.
Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault has criticized Liberal leader Philippe Couillard over the course of the campaign, questioning the value of Hydro-Québec buying more wind energy, when the utility already has an unsold surplus of electricity.
During Thursday's debate on TVA, Legault said Couillard was "buying votes" on the North Shore, by promising a $1.5-billion investment.
"First Nations will be happy to get $500,000 in royalties, but Quebecers will be paying $1.5 billion in losses at Hydro-Quebec," Legault said.
In the English debate the previous week, Couillard mentioned he would turn to Indigenous workers as another way to respond to the ongoing labour shortage.
Gabriel said focusing only on economy, without engaging in deeper questions which define Indigenous communities, like the trauma of colonization and residential schools, is perpetuating racism and social inequalities.
She said these elements all tie into violence against Indigenous women and girls.
"If you take away the identity of a people, if you make them feel that every aspect of their being is wrong, you create this atmosphere that we are non-issues," she said.
Expert testimonies earlier in the week had also underlined how energy and mining projects in remote parts of Canada jeopardize the safety of Indigenous women and their families.
One of the main recommendations Gabriel submitted to the inquiry was the complete implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
She said it is instrumental to provide a legal framework to First Nations, Inuit and Métis, under which governments could no longer escape.
"If there was an actual reconciliation, there needs to be reparations," Gabriel said.
In their platforms, the Parti Québécois, Coalition Avenir Québec and Québec Solidaire all pledged to ratify the Declaration.
A spokesperson for the PLQ said the party was "favourable" to the principles of the Declaration, "however the implementation of complex principles requires a more complete analysis and ongoing dialogue with First Nations."
Last leg of inquiry
Yesterday, a professor from Université Laval suggested the need for a complete overhaul of the federal justice system, which is "imposing a white institution on Indigenous people without their consent."
Throughout the week, witnesses detailed how systemic racism continues to impact the lives of Indigenous women in Canada.
"The long-term effects of colonization and intergenerational trauma contribute to women being missing, murdered or incarcerated," said Kassandra Churcher, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.
Commissioners also expressed their regrets this week about having to write their report without having heard directly from incarcerated women, because of the government's refusal to extend the inquiry, as they had requested.
The inquiry will move on to Winnipeg, Man., and St. John's, N.L., in October.