Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard is quickly making good on his promise to fund projects in Val-d’Or in the wake of the crisis sparked by allegations of abuse by marginalized Native women against Surêté du Québec officers in the northern city.

“It’s all good news,” said Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre director Edith Cloutier about the $6.1-million in funds pledged by the provincial government to her organization.

The funding targets two distinct projects. The largest – with $5.1 million of the funding – is a 24-unit housing project for Aboriginal families. The Friendship Centre has been working with the Société d’Habitation du Québec on that development since 2009.

“We’ve had difficulties throughout the process – we needed to have the city of Val-d’Or involved, and that was not the case with former mayor Fernand Trahan, who didn’t want the project,” Cloutier said. “But once Pierre Corbeil got elected two years ago, he made it a commitment to complete the project with the Friendship Centre.”

After six years, the project is finally ready to become operational.

Edith Cloutier

Edith Cloutier of the Val d’Or Friendship Centre

“This is good news but it’s not a new initiative,” said Cloutier. “It’s been in the government system and we’ve been just on the verge of getting everything connected so the project could move forward.”

The real news, she stressed, was that the remaining $1 million allocated by the government would mean that Willie’s Place – the drop-in homeless day-centre operated by the Friendship Centre along with Val-d’Or emergency shelter La Piaule and other partners – would be funded until March 2017. This is good news for a venture that ran only from last December through to April as a pilot project before funding ran out and homeless people were once again left with nowhere to go during the day.

“We’re in the process of getting Willie’s Place up and running, combining that funding with the generous donation of $43,000 that came from the Creeco golf tournament,” Cloutier said. “This helped the Friendship Centre get a new location for Willie’s Place that we’re in the process of renovating. We’re now open in the morning and afternoon, Monday to Friday. It was a slow opening because we didn’t have funding – we were managing with that donation from Creeco, and some funding that was granted through the CRA.”

With the new money from the province, Willie’s Place will add direct services for Aboriginal women trying to leave the sex trade. This will be supported by a Val-d’Or organization called Le gîte l’Autre porte, which supports sexually abused women.

Cloutier emphasized that crisis of confidence in the SQ first affected Aboriginal women, particularly those on the street and involved in prostitution.

“One thing that’s going to be positive in all of this is that we were confronted as a community – Native and non-Native – in looking at our relationships,” she said, noting that racism is now something the community is more willing to discuss.

“I saw a very interesting resolution from the chamber of commerce. They’re talking about supporting a commission on missing and murdered Aboriginal women, but they’re also saying they need to do something, and they are partly responsible for having positive relationships. I saw a similar resolution coming from l’Université du Québec. I saw a resolution of support from the city of Val-d’Or, and the mayor is now saying we need to take a good look at how we treat our Aboriginal people who are our partners and our friends,” explained Cloutier.

Cloutier frequently talked about reconciliation, which she says must take place on many different levels.

“The toughest one is going to be reconciliation with citizens and individuals,” she observed. “That’s what the Friendship Centre has been working on for 40 years. For 15 years, we’ve had our annual Gabriel Commanda Walk Against Racism, so I’m anxious to see what’s going to happen with the walk in 2016. It’s going to be interesting to see the response from the population, from the citizens. That’s going to be where we need to invest a lot of energy in how, between citizens, we perceive one another.”