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Algonquin chiefs demand meeting with Quebec government at Val d’Or caucus

Click to play video 'Liberal caucus discusses Algonquin people’s rights' Liberal caucus discusses Algonquin people’s rights
WATCH ABOVE: Quebec’s Liberal government is in Val d’Or for its caucus meeting, discussing the economy, mining rights and social concerns for the Algonquin people. Global's Raquel Fletcher reports – Sep 14, 2017

Algonquin chiefs who have been wanting a meeting with Quebec’s Liberal government to talk about resource development say they only found out last week the party’s pre-session caucus meeting was in Val d’Or.

READ MORE: Possible systemic racism against First Nations by Quebec police: report

The party squeezed in an hour-long meeting with the First Nations leaders before heading to a closed-door meeting Thursday.

“The meetings were set up early this morning, 7 a.m., but you know what? At the end of the day, we just want to give the message to the Quebec government that we’re ready, we’re ready to sit down and talk,” said Verna Polson, Algonquin Anishinabeg Tribal Council grand chief.

The Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation Tribal Council, which represents six communities in Quebec, said the federal and provincial governments have failed for decades to consult them about new mining projects.

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Polson said she is optimistic things will change after Thursday’s meeting.

READ MORE: Allegations police abused First Nations women in Val d’Or part of a national problem, observers say

“It doesn’t matter if we were invited or not, we’re here now, today, and we’re not going anywhere anytime soon,” she said.

The premier and several ministers met with the leaders in private; both said they discussed the economy, particularly mining rights, as well as social concerns the Algonquin people have, like problems with contaminated drinking water.

The Algonquin leaders said they also asked the government to create a “negotiating table” where the community will be consulted on future resource development projects.

“It’s time to start sitting at the table and talk about our resources,” Polson said.

The government said the priority is to make Quebec’s economy greener, while also improving mining techniques.

READ MORE: Quebec invests $147 million in five-year plan to help First Nations and Inuit

“There is some interest in improving mining here in this region, but it has to include…partnerships with the indigenous population, with the Algonquin population here,” said first nations affairs minister Geoffrey Kelley.

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There are also tensions between Val d’Or’s Aboriginal communities and the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), which were further exasperated when women came forward, accusing eight SQ officers of sexual assault.

Those charges were dropped in November 2016.

Women of Val d’Or then pushed the government to start an inquiry into systemic racism in the province.

Kelley said those issues were not brought up in Thursday’s meeting.

READ MORE: First Nations women call for Quebec inquiry into systemic racism

Polson said the social economic situation of First Nations in the Abitibi region, like other First Nations communities in Canada, needs to be addressed.

“It’s the shortage of housing, the drinking water and the list goes on, you know the list of the crises that take place in our community. ” Polson said.

According to the tribal council, the rate of unemployment of First Nations people in the Abitibi region is 22 per cent and average earnings were $7,000 lower than non-Aboriginals.

Premier Philippe Couillard will not speak publicly until after caucus wraps up Friday.

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