If Quebec separates from Canada, aboriginal peoples should hold their own referendums on whether to stay inside Quebec or Canada, or strike out on their own, says Romeo Saganash.

“We are heading toward a clash of nationalisms,” said Saganash, who until last September was Deputy Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees. “The Bloc Québécois and PQ have not dealt with the question of aboriginal peoples. Their position is, ‘We want independence first; we’ll deal with you guys later.’ Quebecers may have the right to self-determination, but they have to recognize that there are other people inside Quebec who also have that right.”

Saganash has worked hard to spread understanding of First Nations’ concerns to progressive Quebec nationalists. He is a founder and the outgoing co-chair of the Quebec-Native Forum, which was created in 1992 to promote better relations between First Nations and Quebec society. All the First Nations in Quebec except the Mohawks are members, as well as grassroots organizations of Quebecers and major union federations.

Most of the grassroots groups and unions in the forum are ardent supporters of Quebec’s independence. But that hasn’t stopped them from supporting the aboriginal right to self-determination. Last October, the forum issued a statement to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples supporting that right. Saganash said the forum’s declarations will give First Nations much-needed leverage in the upcoming debate over Quebec’s sovereignty.

Aboriginal self-determination got another boost from a second major grassroots coalition of Quebecers, Solidarité populaire Quebec (SPQ). SPQ is currently elaborating a “People’s Charter” for an independent Quebec. The charter calls for social justice, economic equality and nation-to-nation talks with the first peoples.

SPQ coordinator Marianne Roy is a long-time grassroots activist who also heads the Kahnawake Human Rights Watch Committee. The committee works with the Kahnawake band council to monitor police harassment of Mohawks. The committee is also organizing a Kahnawake-Chateauguay friendship forum on March 26 to ease tensions between Mohawks and Quebecers. Michelle Rouleau, the former head of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, is coordinating the forum.