About 100 participants including many Quebec First Nations chiefs convened for a closed-door political roundtable with the provincial Indigenous affairs minister on Friday. During a virtual press conference with reporters afterwards, they said they are making important headway when it comes to addressing First Nations concerns. However, there’s one issue where they still don’t see eye to eye.
Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador Chief Ghislain Picard and Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière have weekly discussions, but the political roundtable, an initiative launched back in November, includes many more stakeholders.
Picard said he and other chiefs bared their souls, daring to bring up sensitive subjects and speak freely with Lafrenière. These subjects included things like the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Premier François Legault has refused to sign.
Another issue is systemic racism and Joyce’s Priniciple, named after Joyce Echequan who filmed herself dying in a Joliette hospital in September 2020 while staff uttered racial slurs.
Lafrenière has on a number of occasions said that the government is working to put most of the principle’s recommendations in place, but he said Quebec and First Nations have “agreed to disagree” on using the term systemic racism.
During Friday’s joint press conference with Lafrenière, Picard challenged that very notion.
“If we start by agreeing to disagree, that means we have avoided that issue,” he said.
“And as Mr. Lafrenière just said a few moments ago, I think the door’s open for the conversation to be ongoing, and that’s essentially the message I convey to the premier as well. We definitely have enough maturity to agree that this issue, although highly sensitive, can be part of the discussion,” he explained.
Picard’s message to the government is that the issue of systemic racism isn’t going to go away. This, as the world recognizes the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Sunday.