On September 9, Ghislain Picard, the Chief of the Association for First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), addressed a letter to the leaders of each party running in the upcoming Quebec elections. The letter criticizes the provincial government for its treatment of First Nations people and details the AFNQL’s demands for the next ruling party. These demands, Picard wrote, are not new. The AFNQL letter states, “we have always been making [our demands] known, perhaps too quietly, perhaps too politely. Until now, it has been too easy for successive governments to turn a deaf ear and direct their attention elsewhere.” Picard made it clear to leaders that they must convene with the AFNQL’s Chiefs Assembly within one hundred days of their new administration.
The demands themselves are fivefold. They include the safety of First Nations people, the adoption of a bill which follows the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, meetings with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the development of an economy by and for First Nations, and services to First Nations which respect their cultures and ways of life. The AFNQL expects to be included in all discussions about legislation relating to these topics.
To date, party leaders’ responses to the letter have lacked substance, despite Picard’s call for real commitment. In last week’s debate, Parti Québécois’ leader Lisée said that “if we’re going to come up with solutions it’ll have to be together. […] These aren’t just meetings to say hello; we’ll sit down and start to see how we can tackle these problems.” In short, Lisée called for more than platitudes, yet offers nothing beyond them; Indigenous issues are still missing from their platform. Liberal incumbent PM Couillard has suggested that Indigenous youth could decrease the Quebecois labour shortage, apparently only taking interest in Indigenous rights as long as it makes Indigenous peoples more economically useful. However, he did not address the systemic barriers which Indigenous people face when seeking employment. The Coalition Avenir Québec has reportedly agreed to meet more regularly with Indigenous leaders, though they have not released a statement to the press or publicly responded to the letter. While Quebec Solidaire’s (QS) response has been the most substantial, it also leaves something to be desired. Co-spokesperson Massé reiterated the commitment of her party to support First Nations’ demands and their right to sovereignty. This is a positive sentiment, yet it only serves to promote the QS platform as having always been an advocate for First Nations, and does not acknowledge a need for change within their own party.
Without pressure from both the AFNQL and constituents, it seems unlikely that the parties will commit to any lasting action. As settlers on unceded land, we have an obligation to First Nations people. We must vote for people who are likely to follow through on their promises, and we must hold these parties accountable beyond elections. Most of all, we must pressure the next government to actually sit down and work with Indigenous organizers and groups like the AFNQL.