Quebec Indigenous leaders question gov't commitment to Indigenous issues

With just over one week to go until Canadians head to the polls in a federal election, Quebec's Indigenous leaders are condemning past governments for "colonialist and discriminatory" attitudes on Indigenous issues.

'First Nations will not hesitate to appeal to international bodies,' says regional chief

Ghislain Picard, Quebec regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, joined several other leaders in rebuking the federal government for their treatment of Indigenous people in Quebec. (Canadian Press)

With just over one week to go until Canadians head to the polls in a federal election, Quebec's Indigenous leaders are condemning past governments for "colonialist and discriminatory" attitudes on Indigenous issues.

In a statement released on Thursday, Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Ghislain Picard accused governments of circumventing the constitutional rights of Indigenous people in Canada and gave a warning that these acts could come with consequences.

"For any government that will not have the courage to free Canada from colonialism, First Nations will not hesitate to appeal to international bodies," Picard's statement said.

President of the Makivik Corporation Charlie Watt, elected leader of the Inuit communities in northern Quebec, says he has seen improvement but Canada is still lacking in regard to the fair treatment of Indigenous people.

Governing bodies in Canada "are pushing their own colonial approach," Watt said. "They may think that they are getting away from that but it still exists today."

Watt said he feels the current system is counterproductive where governing structures in the South are "micro-managing" the North. Southern politicians, he said, need to visit the North to get a better sense of the people and the issues affecting them.

Grand Chief of the Cree Nation Government Abel Bosum says a political party's attitude towards UNDRIP is revealing of their willingness to address Indigenous issues. (Jamie Pashagumskum/CBC)

"They don't know anything about the North. They're not doing the job. They're only making a mess of it and confusing the hell out of people," Watt said. "They don't understand the lifestyle of the people that live up there and they never will."

Watt says the solution is to give more responsibility and legislative power to northern Indigenous governments so they can better manage desperately needed resources.

Abel Bosum, Grand Chief of the Cree Nation in Quebec, shares the idea of transferring administrative power to Indigenous governments because, he says, politicians in the South don't understand northern issues like the housing crisis.

He referred to the final report of the Viens commission, which identified lack of housing as a core problem that causes Indigenous people to leave home due to overcrowding.

"Some people end up being forced out of our communities and often they find themselves in urban centres. Then many of these people find themselves on the streets," Bosum said.

'Profound change' demanded

In his statement Picard referred to the housing crisis and lack of clean water in Indigenous communities, and criticised the current government for refusing to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Another source of frustration for Picard are statements from the Liberal and Conservative parties stating they would support a federal court judicial review of the Canadian and Human Rights Tribunal's decision to compensate First Nations children and their families harmed by the child-welfare system.

Makivik Corporation President Charlie Watt wants a one on one meeting with Quebec premier François Legault. (Submitted by the Makivik Corporation)

Picard said that would be a breach of commitments made by the current government and shows a lack of respect for First Nation issues.

"Discrimination, racial profiling, abuse of power and the differential treatment of First Nations are causing us to demand a profound change in the situation," Picard stated.

Bosum said he hopes whichever federal party gets elected makes the implementation of UNDRIP a priority, saying it will be a telling point whether or not that government will take Indigenous issues seriously.

As a parting message, Bosum urged Indigenous populations to listen to the candidates, ask questions, and make their concerns known, and to exercise their right to vote.

"The only way [candidates] will have information is if people tell them what the issues are in their communities and what they hope the government can achieve in the next four years," he said.