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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ


BY Will Nicholls Aug 25, 2020

In the past, as now, it was easy to know as a First Nations person when you were subject to racism and discrimination. Residential school survivors can tell you what they experienced both in school and later in life. 

Looking at more recent examples, it seems obvious that things haven’t changed. One mayor complained that the Cree now have better vehicles than most of the people in his town. First Nations people still get followed in stores. They have a difficult time finding housing in Val-d’Or and other places. In Montreal, it was said that the police were more likely to stop a Black or First Nations person than anyone else. 

The list goes on but there might be hope. The Assembly of First Nations of Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL) hired Léger Marketing to conduct a survey among non-Aboriginal Quebecers concerning First Nations in the province, which produced some interesting results.

A lot of Quebecers (58%) admitted they have little or no knowledge of either issues or realities facing First Nations but think that relations are bad (53%).

In fact, 92% of Quebecers think First Nations people and their communities are subject to racism and discrimination. While that certainly covers the concept of bad, it shows that the people and their government don’t agree with each other.

Premier François Legault says he doesn’t believe that systematic racism exists in Quebec. However, he assembled a group to look at ways to counter racism in most of the province’s services at the same time. Is this an example of the “forked tongue” some Aboriginals in the past referred to?

Incredibly, around 30% of Quebecers questioned admitted to having been prejudiced against First Nations. In addition, 31% said they have heard people around them make racist or discriminatory remarks about First Nations people. Another 16% have witnessed it.

Does the average Quebecer believe that racism exists in their institutions? The answer is yes. Most obvious is the relationship that police have with First Nations. A poor turnout for our boys in blue, as 73% think cops here do not treat Indigenous people equitably. As for the rest, 70% feel First Nations don’t get the same level of service as other in Quebec’s institutions such as justice, health and schools.

These attitudes are a far cry from the amount of racism displayed during the 1990 Oka Crisis. During those days we saw people lining up at what was known as the Whiskey Trench to stone vehicles carrying women, children and Elders from Kahnawake.

So yes, as AFNQL chief Ghislain Picard said, the results from the survey is “good news”.

“I feel the public opinion is more aware of our situations and realities, and the kind of challenges that we have and obstacles that we have when dealing with governments,” said Picard.

One of the main challenges will be getting the Legault government to recognize that their public statements do not reflect voters’ opinions today. There is still more work to be done. Quebec media was also found wanting. A majority (60%) of Quebecers feel media does not pay enough attention to First Nations issues and realities. Even when they do, 53% say they don’t represent First Nations in a fair manner.

In the end, perhaps the evolution of relations and the desire for harmony between First Nations and Quebecers shows an improvement that most wouldn’t have expected. However, governments seem to have a problem evolving in the same way. While governments should reflect the opinions and desires of the voters to a certain extent, between elections they continue to lag behind their electorate.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.