Canada Votes 2015

First Nations rally in Quebec to remind party leaders their issues count

Hundreds answer call to break silence on Indigenous issues as election looms
Nahka Bertrand

Leaders and representatives from First Nations in Quebec marched in downtown Montreal on Friday, Oct. 9, responding to the silence on Indigenous issues during the federal election campaign.

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“Having our rights respected and our voices heard, that’s why we’re here at this rally,” said Marie-Josée Parent, member of the Mi’kmaq Nation and director of partnerships and development for DestiNATIONS, an Indigenous gallery and cultural centre planned to open in 2019. “Our democracy is very limited in terms of space for action. Voting is one of those acts. This rally is another.”

Under the statue of John Cabot in the downtown square that bears his name, the rally’s opening address underlined the fact that First Nations in Canada rank 68th in the United Nations' Human Development Index, compared to Canada’s sixth-place ranking, that this country’s relationship with First Nations must be fixed, and that a comprehensive plan to address First Nations’ many issues is needed — which none of the parties have offered.

The march proceeded down St. Catherine Street and came back full circle to Cabot Square, a reflection of the Indigenous worldview. In a spirit the solidarity, marchers walked alongside First Nations communities and organizations, including the Idle No More and Native Friendship Centre movements. Members of the Green Party and MNA Manon Massé of Québec Solidaire also made appearances.

The event was organized by the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and Quebec Native Women. Participants carried signs highlighting dire issues, such as the suicide rate among Indigenous youth, which is five times higher than than for the rest of the Canadian population, and the lack of adequate shelter, as 23 per cent of First Nations live in overcrowded housing. The United Nations has called the situation of Indigenous people in Canada a crisis.

“It’s disastrous, what the government has done these past years, especially in regards to the environment,” said a First Nations woman named Sylvie when asked why she planned to vote even though most of the party leaders ignore issues that concern her.

Despite the traditional Haudenosaunee stance of non-participation in the Canadian political system, based on the nation-to-nation approach established in the Two Row Wampum Treaty, Mohawk women joined the march in solidarity. They held up the Mohawk flag, which shows the great tree of peace, a symbol of Haudenosaunee participatory democracy.

The rally was the first of a series of activities in the countdown to election day this Oct. 19.

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