People who live in the Atikamekw community of Manawan say they want to move forward.
“Our community wants change,” stressed deputy chief Sipi Flamand as he prepared for the second day of the community’s annual powwow weekend in late September.
According to Flamand, the death of Joyce Echaquan last year has focused attention on issues Indigenous peoples have been facing for generations.
“We saw many things about discrimination, systemic racism,” said the deputy chief, “and Joyce showed us what happens there.”
Echaquan, who lived in the community, died at a Joliette hospital after filming herself being racially taunted by staff.
That incident mobilized residents in this community 200 km north of Montreal to demand recognition and acknowledgment of the injustices Indigenous people have faced, including the experiences at residential schools.
“We’re human beings and we should be treated that way,” stated Keith Flamand, emcee at the powwow.
Those issues were top of mind for himself and other residents as they gathered to celebrate resilience at the event.
“We want to acknowledge that First Nations always have a battle,” he wanted people to know. “We’ve had a battle for hundreds of years now, whether it be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.”
Some like Sipi see the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as an opportunity for non-Indigenous people to begin a dialogue with their Indigenous neighbours and to begin a new journey.
“I think the 30th September is a day for Canadians and Quebecers to try to understand,” he stressed.
He and other leaders in the community insist that governments have a responsibility to Indigenous Peoples and want more resources to govern themselves.
“The biggest challenge,” Sipi stressed, “is our community don’t have more programmes to be a people.”
He pointed to housing as well as lack of economic opportunity as problems common to many First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities.
Other Indigenous leaders agree and point to a new wave of desire for change among the people.
“Maybe it’s time that it turns into a tsunami so that governments will finally do the right thing,” said Ghislain Picrad, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador.
Carol Dubé, Echaquan’s husband, believes the solution is simple.
“Equal treatment for all, no matter what their origins,” he told Global News in Atikamekw.
The path to reconciliation, he agrees, is just beginning.