Indigenous policy in Quebec: Four challenges: Friendly advice for the new minister, Sylvie D'Amours.

Author:Kelley, Geoffrey

For eight of the past 13 years, I have had the privilege of serving as Quebec's ministre responsable des Affaires autochtones. It has been a challenging period, to say the least, in the development of relations between ten First Nations, the Inuit and the Government of Quebec. In all, there are 55 Indigenous communities, representing approximately 1 per cent of Quebec's total population, which have their own realities, needs and challenges. In light of many recent significant changes to the landscape, the government is looking to adapt its policies and programs.

These changes include landmark decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada on issues such as the duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous peoples and on aboriginal title, the 94 Calls to Action contained in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and serious allegations concerning government actions or inaction with regard to various issues. These allegations led to the creation of two inquiries - at the federal level, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), and at the provincial level, the Public Inquiry Commission on Relations between Indigenous Peoples and Certain Public Services in Quebec: Listening, Reconciliation and Progress (the Viens Commission). All of this in the context of a changing demographic reality, where more and more Indigenous people are arriving in our cities and towns, creating challenges for provincial services, notably in the area of health care and education.

The challenges for the new minister holding this portfolio are significant, and I cannot list them all in this article. But I will lay out four areas of concern, and share my hopes for the future of our relations with the First Nations of Quebec and the Inuit of Nunavik.

Challenge 1: Qui fait quoi?

The federal government is preparing a major proposal to help define more clearly self-government for Indigenous people in Canada. The area of governance and constitutional responsibilities for governments is a murky one. The principles are not always easily applicable in practice, and the changing demographic reality has created a significant Indigenous presence in our cities. This presence has led to increased demands for provincial government services, notably in health, education, housing and employment.

For example, despite federal responsibilities for education, fully one third of Indigenous students are now enrolled in Quebec's public school system. In addition, once secondary studies are completed, students enter the provincial CEGEP and university system, or move toward employment training programs. Over the past decade, the Quebec government has opened four adult education centres in Lac-Simon, Uashat, Kahnawake and Listiguj to attract young adults back into the educational sector, and to prepare them for postsecondary studies. A First Nations college, the Kiuna Institute, was opened in Odanak and continues to develop new programs for a primarily Indigenous clientele.

In addition, our colleges and universities, with some support from Quebec's Ministere de l'Education et de l'Enseignement Superieur, have increased their efforts to welcome Indigenous students and to provide them with support, to include more Indigenous content in their courses and to strengthen the preparation of various professionals who will work with Indigenous communities. The creation of the Pavilion des Premiers Peuples in Vald'Or as part of the Universite du Quebec en Abitibi-Temiscamingue (UQAT), the work on Indigenous school success done by the Universite du Quebec a Chicoutimi (UQAC), McGill University's ambitious Provost's Task Force on Indigenous Education, Universite Laval's work on the challenges facing northern Quebec and John Abbott College's work with Inuit students are just a few examples of the progress being made.

But much work remains to be done. The First Nations and Inuit want a greater say in the management of their schools, and seek greater emphasis on Indigenous languages, cultures and history as part of the curriculum. In Quebec, under the auspices of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA), the Cree and Inuit have their own school boards, and the Naskapi have special status for their school. Over 40 years have passed since the signing of the agreement, and these institutions have struggled with issues related to academic success rates and with helping students transition to college or other training programs. But the JBNQA has allowed for a definition of the respective roles and responsibilities of the federal and Quebec governments, as well as the Indigenous population.

Things are less clear for the eight First Nations in southern Quebec. Given the importance of improving...

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