The appointment of Abitibi-Est MNA Élizabeth Larouche as Quebec’s PQ aboriginal affairs minister last September occurred with a minimum of comment, much less controversy. That might not be surprising since the approach of Larouche and her government toward First Nations appear to differ little from that of the previous Liberal government of Jean Charest.
The tone is friendly. In a recent email interview with the Nation, Minister Larouche promised to respect the principle of nation-to-nation negotiations with Aboriginal governments in Quebec.
“Whether it’s in regard to autonomy, economic or social development, or the promotion of cultures, languages and traditions, my government and I are willing to collaborate,” Larouche said. “We will also closely monitor development above the 49th parallel, because the Aboriginal nations are particularly affected by this. We will see to it that they are heard, consulted and considered.”
She cites the December 3 summit on territories and resources as an example of the young PQ government’s good will toward First Nations. “The current government is willing to talk about anything; nothing is taboo. The premier… is committed to real participation and consultation with First Nations people and Inuit.”
On the issue of resource development in the north, expressed PQ policies differ little from those of the previous Liberal government.
“The government of Quebec is committed to northern development for all,” Madame Larouche commented. “Aboriginal communities must be involved in this major project. On November 15th, we announced the creation of the Secrétariat au développement nordique [northern development secretariat], whose responsibility it is to coordinate the actions of the entire government apparatus to meet the needs of northern communities and ensure coherent development of the North.”
Larouche says her priority is to create employment opportunities for young people in Eeyou Istchee and other Aboriginal communities across Quebec.
“With a significant increase in population, communities in northern Québec will increasingly need interesting future opportunities for young people,” she said. “As such, employment and training for young Aboriginals are part of my priorities. I sincerely believe that these prospects can be made possible only through responsible and sustainable economic development.”
Asked to explain her government’s position on the use of English in First Nations communities and whether her inability to speak English could pose an obstacle to engagement with Aboriginal communities, she responded carefully: “The premier has a profound respect for the Crees and the fact that they speak English. The government of Quebec undertakes its term… with the utmost respect for all that characterizes these nations with which we share this large territory.”
Five months into the term of the PQ government, Quebec’s policy shifts on the First Nations file are subtle. Time will tell if the PQ of Premier Pauline Marois represents a change in the relationship. And Minister Larouche reaffirmed Quebec’s goal to encourage development in Aboriginal communities.
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come, for his part, appears satisfied that the new minister and her government will respect the interests of the Crees.