On November 4, 2020, the City of Montreal released its five-year strategy for “reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.” The plan was created in consultation with over thirty organizations that work with Indigenous communities in and around Montreal, including the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke and the Montreal Indigenous Community Network, and it was overseen by Montreal’s Indigenous Affairs Commissioner, Marie-Ève Bordeleau, a member of the Cree nation. Mayor Valérie Plante described the strategy as “not a report we’re going to put on shelf,” but rather an initiative “about orienting what needs to be done.” While this initiative is arguably the strongest commitment to Indigenous solidarity the city has ever expressed, it is only one part of a long process of governmental reconciliation in Montreal and in Quebec. We must also recognize that the type of reconciliation being sought by this plan is only within the scope of the state, which means it is inherently limited.
The five-year plan, which consists of seven objectives centred around improving the visibility, safety, and economic development of Indigenous communities in Montreal, was released one month after the appointment of former police officer Ian Lafrenière as Quebec’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs, and over a year since the Viens Commission – a public inquiry into Indigenous systemic discrimination – was released by the government of Quebec. This commission sparked prime minister François Legault’s hollow apology to Indigenous peoples in October 2019.
The City of Montreal’s reconciliation efforts have been largely symbolic, including renaming Amherst Street to Atateken Street in June 2019 and adding a white pine symbol, meant to represent the Great Tree of Peace, to the centre of the city flag in September 2017. These changes don’t improve living conditions for Indigenous communities in Montreal, and the new reconciliation plan is the first time the City has put forward material reforms to be adopted in Montreal’s municipal government. The plan has been praised as a framework for moving forward by Indigenous leaders such as Ghislin Picard, chief of the Assembly of the First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) and Gina Deer, Kahnawà:ke Mohawk Council chief.
Despite the government’s claim that it is taking steps towards reconciliation, state violence against Indigenous peoples remains prevalent in Montreal. In response to Lafrenière’s appointment last month, Nakuset, the Executive Director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, spoke out against the government’s inaction in a Facebook post, saying, “The awareness of discrimination and violence against Indigenous people by police across Canada is staggering. Read the Viens Commission and acknowledge the testimony of police abuse.”
When discussing her vision for the reconciliation process, Mayor Plante acknowledged that Montreal has limited jurisdiction in regard to provincial decision-making. Even within those limitations, city officials have a duty to act on their promise to prioritize Indigenous leadership and to support initiatives that centre Indigenous communities. We must continue to hold Plante accountable for her promises, and push for initiatives that fully represent the needs of Indigenous communities in Montreal.
We also need to recognize that reform within colonial institutions will never be enough. The fundamental goals of the state are at odds with the basic rights of Indigenous peoples, including repatriation of land and the right to traditional subsistence practices. Since Canada has no intention of ceding the lands it has colonized, its offers of reconciliation will always come with strings attached. Rather than solely relying on institutions founded in opposition to Indigenous liberation, we should focus on supporting our communities directly through systems like mutual aid. Change within the Montreal and Quebec governments is important and can have a material impact on the lives of marginalized communities, but that impact is inherently limited by settler interests.
We can support our neighbours by directly collaborating with Indigenous community organizations in Montreal. The Montreal Indigenous Community Network has compiled a list of local organizations here. Resilience MTL, Native Women’s Shelter, and Open Door serve Indigenous homeless populations, and are frequently looking for donations and other forms of aid. We can also directly support the Montreal community through a local COVID mutual aid Facebook group and the Settlement Reparations for Indigenous People Montreal and Surrounding Area group. Harm reduction organizations also benefit and support Indigenous communities that are experiencing housing and economic insecurity. You can keep up with their work and find opportunities to volunteer and donate at Head and Hands and Black Indigenous Harm Reduction Alliance Montreal. Organizations such as the People’s Potato, Frigo Vert, Midnight Kitchen, and Meals for Milton Parc provide free or reduced-cost meals for folks experiencing food insecurity. It is our communal responsibility to imagine and build a world that doesn’t rely on colonial institutions to grant us and our neighbours fundamental human rights.