Newly-elected Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest, has named the new minister of Aboriginal affairs.
His name is Benoit Pelletier, and he says he is very enthusiastic to have the portfolio. “It’s very good news, because it’s a very interesting file, a very interesting subject.”
Pelletier was born in Quebec City 43 years ago, is married and has four children ranging in age from six months to 11 years old.
A member of the Liberal Party of Quebec, he represents the Outaouais riding, and along with the Aboriginal portfolio, is also in charge of inter-governmental affairs.
Having been appointed less than a year and a half after the historic “Paix des Braves” agreement signed between the Quebec government and the Cree, Pelletier definitely has his work cut out for him.
“I think there are a lot of changes that can be made, first of all we’re very aware of the natives problems. We’ve very sensitive to it. We want to make sure we get a more harmonious relationship with the Aboriginals. We’re very sensitive with respect to the existing rights of the Aboriginals. We feel there should be a better, closer relationship between all the citizens of Quebec.”
Pelletier has been in politics since 1998 and his interest in Native people is not something new, relatively speaking. “I wrote a report called the Pelletier report which defines the Liberal party’s new philosophy in regards to inter-governmental relations. There is a very complete chapter on the Aboriginals, and the rights of the Aboriginals. That was made public in 2001.”
What will happen to the “Paix des Braves” under a Liberal government? “It’s something that seems to be acceptable for now. It’s a good model. We all know that each negotiation with any Aboriginal nation needs a specific form of treaty or agreement. Each nation has particular characteristics.”
“We couldn’t say that the Paix des Braves is a model that fits all natives, but it’s a very good start, a very good precedent, and it’s something which is a source of inspiration.”
Self-government is always a hot issue amongst native people, and Pelletier thinks that tackling the issue head on is the right way to go about it. “It’s an ever-evolving file. For example, we are determined to get an agreement which would be acceptable to the Innu. That agreement would be another model of the kind of agreement that we could reach with the Aboriginal peoples. This kind of deal is something that we are trying to work towards.”
“There are other claims from Aboriginals from all over Quebec, and we try to respond to those claims as best we can.”
Pelletier’s view on improving the everyday lives of Native people, especially the Cree, is refreshing. “My goal is to make sure that the Cree could, in fact, exercise more autonomy. We don’t just recognize the principal of their autonomy on different territories, but we also agree that they should be able to practice that autonomy on a daily basis.”
“I also want to make sure the Cree have all the necessary tools to blossom, and express themselves, and to develop their communities.”
The new Liberal government, according to Pelletier, is open and ready to deal with any Native issues that may arise. He says the government will have a relationship which will be just as strong as the one the Cree Grand Council had with the PQ. “I’m very positive on that, in fact we’re facing a tough challenge concerning Aboriginal rights, and we’re facing it with so much good faith that it will certainly help with our new relationship with the Grand Council.”
“We are looking for improvement, and there is a new spirit that will mark the progression, and the discussion.”