The Quebec government is looking to expand dialogue with Indigenous communities in the province by creating a political round table with the Assembly of First Nations Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL).
The measure, which was announced Tuesday in Montreal, comes as the province seeks to strengthen ties and address the recommendations outlined in the report from the Viens Commission, an inquiry that examined Quebec’s relations with Indigenous Peoples.
“We are talking about weekly meetings to share what we are doing as steps,” said Ian Lafrenière, the minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs.
He described it as a concrete measure to allow dialogue “nation to nation” and to speak with First Nations leaders on issues that concern them.
Ghislain Picard, chief of the AFNQL, said the round table is not meant to replace other processes in place for individual First Nations and Quebec to meet, but rather a “place of convergence” on issues affecting different communities.
Picard added he was also pleased to see Premier François Legault welcome the initiative and that he received good feedback from him.
The topics to be discussed have yet to be decided, but Lafrenière said priorities will be outlined in the coming weeks.
The round table comes nearly two months after the death of Joyce Echaquan, an Atikamekw woman who was subjected to racist slurs by staff while she was seeking treatment in a Joliette hospital. She recorded the insults and posted them to social media.
The troubling circumstances of her death have sparked multiple investigations and prompted questions about how Indigenous patients are cared for in Quebec’s health-care system. Relations between some Indigenous communities and the government also struck a low point following her death.
Picard says the working group will help advance issues such as Joyce’s Principle, which is a list of measures proposed by the Atikamekw Nation to ensure equitable access to health care for Indigenous people.
When asked about the initiative, Legault said it will help “do a part of the work” but that the government knows it will need to speak to each nation.
Lafrenière, who was appointed to his position following Echaquan’s death, has vowed to unveil an action plan by Christmas.
—With files from Global News’ Tim Sargeant and The Canadian Press