As several events were underway to commemorate the heritage the achievements of Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, the festivities were marked with both celebration and controversy in Quebec.
At a National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration in Montreal’s Old Port, attendants applauded the city’s move to support a plan to build a cultural embassy for Canada’s Indigenous Peoples near the Quai de l’Horloge.
“Today we’re saying yes,” said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante at a press conference.
“We think it’s a great project, we’re behind it.”
The city is pitching in 10 per cent of the $60-million project. The rest of the costs will be covered by federal, provincial and private funding.
“It will be a space where we can express our art, our culture, where we could demonstrate our willingness to welcome everybody in our circle of dialogue in order to co-create together the future of our relationships,” said Odile Joannette, executive director of Wapikoni Mobile, a non-profit cultural organization.
Joannette has been lobbying for the project for 10 years.
“I’m thrilled,” she said.
While they were applauding the city’s move, Quebec’s Health Minister Gaétan Barrette’s comments made at an event a few weeks ago became a source of criticism.
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Barrette said parents in northern villages could still be barred from going on medevac flights with their children.
“Why? Because no one — agitated, drugged, under whatever influence — would get on the plane at any cost. That will not happen. And that happens all the time,” Barrette said.
Barrette defended himself on Thursday.
“I’m sorry I said it in a way that it was interpreted that way, that I’m very sorry about,” Barrette told reporters. “But if you look at my record regarding all First Nations issues I think I have quite a positive record.”
Quebec’s Minister responsible for Native Affairs Geoffrey Kelley also defended Barrette.
“It’s not the Gaétan Barrette that I know,” Kelley said.
He said Barrette has been a “big ally” on multiple Indigenous issues, such as the construction of a new CLSC in the Inuit community of Aupaluk.
Kelley also outlined the efforts that have been made to improve relations, such as changing Quebec’s history curriculum to include more content on the country’s Indigenous peoples.
“We will have a good day, a good Aboriginal day without the shadow of bad feelings,” André Dudemaine, the executive director of Land InSIGHTS, said when asked about Barrette’s comments.
Others had harsher words for the minister.
Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, said the comments suggested the “very deep roots of discrimination and prejudice against Aboriginal peoples.”
“The minister’s utterly unacceptable statement clearly indicates that these roots are deep into the heart of Philippe Couillard’s government, who should immediately demand the resignation of Minister Barrette, or dismiss him,” Picard said in a statement.
–With files from The Canadian Press