In its 11th edition, the city of Val-d’Or was once again host to five days of activities devoted to anti-racism awareness and learning.

The Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre (VDFNC)’s vice president Janet Mark, who also works at the Cégep de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue First Nations Pavilion, said the week was jam-packed with activities and that the VDFNC this year had tremendous participation from their partners within all of Val-d’Or’s learning institutions.

“The institutions were much more involved than in previous years. The Friendship Centre organized some activities on the premises or held activities at the university and over at the high school they just went ahead and organized their own activities,” said Mark.

The week was kicked off on Monday with the Friendship Centre hosting an open house for the general public. Those interested were able to visit the VDFNC and learn more about what happens there through a 45-minute guided tour. For those not normally privy to the Centre’s activities, it was an eye-opening experience.

Later on that evening, the VDFNC held a launch for the new book about the Centre’s history.

Written by Val-d’Or journalist François Bélisle, who has written on the VDFNC over the years, Kinawit (Algonquin for “us”), serves as a retrospective on the Centre’s 35-year existence and features memoirs and photos of those involved during that time.

“A lot of people who came out for the launch had been involved with the Friendship Centre in the past and they shared their stories about their experience,” said Mark

Though many of the activities went on for the full five days, including games and workshops at the local primary and secondary schools geared towards learning and sharing, Wednesday, March 23, brought out 100 folks for two unique experiences.

At the Cégep’s First Nations Pavilion, folks from all walks of life gathered for a tasting of traditional Aboriginal foods and then a film screening.

The films were put on by Wapikoni Mobile, a youth-driven film project where young people are mentored during the process of making short films on racism and Aboriginal identity. The films were made by Aboriginal youth in the area and nearby communities, not only by Algonquins, but Crees and Innu. Val-d’Or’s First Nations youth put together the screening and the films were watched by anyone whose interest was piqued.

The following day the Pavilion also hosted two other unique activities, first a special lunchtime conference hosted by Béatrice Vaugrante, director general of the francophone branch of Amnesty International Canada.

Vaugraante devoted the event to First Nations of Quebec and Amnesty’s campaign to raise awareness about Violence against Aboriginal women. She also talked about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This was followed by a special panel presentation that was put on in a talk-show format; its set-up was similar to Radio-Canada’s program, Tout le monde en parle.

A panel of five guests presenting different perspectives participated while VDFNC’s executive director Edith Cloutier acted as the show’s host and moderator.

On the panel were individuals representing media, the city of Val-d’Or, Aboriginal perspectives from the community of Lac Simon, an academic and Vaugrande from Amnesty.

The grand finale for the week’s activities was the annual Gabriel Commanda march against racism.

Despite frigid temperatures hovering around -20 that day, almost 1000 poeple marched to show their support of solidarity between all nations within the community and beyond.

School children as young as kindergarten age marched alongside university students and Elders who were bussed in from nearby communities.

The end of the march ended with a grand celebration in the streets with live entertainment that featured Aboriginal hoop dancing and Pikogan rap artist Jérémy Kistabish.

According to Mark, there was also a sort of flash mob/ friendship dance that took place during the entertainment. People learned the dance moves prior to the event through a YouTube video and then when it was time a synchronized dance broke out.

While Mark said the extreme cold may have kept more folks off the street than previous years, all in all it was a fabulous week of sharing, learning and breaking down barriers.