Though it might be hard to quantify whether residents of Val-d’Or are less inclined to racial prejudice ever since the city’s Native Friendship Centre (NFC) began its Awareness Week for the Elimination off Racial Discrimination, the movement itself has certainly grown.

“It’s difficult to evaluate if people are less racist or more racist because it is such a taboo subject. But what we know for a fact is that every year a growing number of people join in our march,” said Édith Cloutier, executive director of the NFC.

Though the week itself included various activities centered on sensitizing the city residents to racial discrimination, the entire event culminated with a large march through downtown Val-d’Or called the Gabriel Commanda Walk. The event ran from March 16-20.

Last year Cloutier said that over 1000 people participated in the walk against racism in Val-d’Or, which has a population of 35,000. Cloutier was quick to point out that if such a walk took place proportionately in Montreal, over 40,000 people would be marching through the city’s downtown core.

Much to Cloutier’s delight, the movement has carried over into the local schools, the Cégep and the university which have all taken on the cause very seriously.

“What we have observed is that awareness does change the way people perceive themselves. If we look back 15 years ago, we did not have a First Nations pavilion at the university. Now we have a university that has become open enough to work with First Nations people,” said Cloutier.

Other things have changed in Val-d’Or according to Cloutier. Now the city’s Chamber of Commerce always includes Aboriginal businesses in major events such as the recent Construction Conference held in Val-d’Or March 10-11.

This year’s Awareness Week had two unique spokespeople, two 14-year-old girls, Mélissa Ratté, a Cree, and Daphnée Montambault, who is Québécoise. The girls were featured in various television and radio spots and were profiled in the local press.

“We felt that this was a strong message to send in demonstrating their friendship. The two have been friends since they were very young and they are still best friends,” said Cloutier.

Prior to Awareness Week, Cloutier publicly introduced a new and innovative project, the First Nations Services Centre, at the recent construction conference.

The multi-service centre came about after the NFC was granted funding for a new 60-spot daycare centre in addition to the daycare centre it already runs within the facility which has 80 spaces.

With money coming through for one project already, Cloutier and company decided to take the project a step further and look into building a new facility to house not only the daycare but their youth services and a few other projects.

The other two components to the facility will feature are office-space rental and a labour-market integration enterprise for young Aboriginal women.

The service centre is being designed with a socioeconomic aspect where the funding generated from the services being provided at the facility, including the rent for the new business offices, will be funneled back into programs run by the NFC.

“The money could be returned to the community for programs and services, this is why we call it social economic development because it produces collective wealth for the community that remains within the community,”said Cloutier.

The project has been a year-and-a-half in the planning and is being funded through various branches of the federal and provincial governments. Cloutier said that it would not have happened without new funding made available by Indian and Northern Affairs’ Federal Interlocutor, their department responsible for urban Aboriginals.

The total cost for the project should it go according to plan is just under $5 million and the NFC is hoping to see it come to fruition within the next year.