Marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, First Nations came together with non-Natives in Chibougamau and in Val-d’Or to celebrate in solidarity.
The city of Val-d’Or’s celebrations were triumphant this year according to the Friendship Centre’s Executive Director Édith Cloutier.
In Val-d’Or the festivities began at the Friendship Centre on March 16 and culminated on March 20 with its largest ever Gabriel Commanda Walk against Racism.
Under sunny, blue skies, at about 1:30 pm, approximately 1,300 people took part in the march through downtown Val-d’Or.
“The atmosphere was that of festivity and celebration, without any hostility or negative attitudes. It was amazing and we had a very young crowd because we had strong participation from the local schools. It was a great turnout,” said Cloutier still brimming with lingering enthusiasm days later.
To get the crowd going before the march, Native and non-Native hip-hop performers took to the stage and performed songs that fit with the theme of the event.
Politicians and Chiefs also participated in the pre-march festivities by signing a declaration against racism on stage. Among them were the Algonquin Grand Chief Lucien Wabanonik, provincial Native Affairs Minister Pierre Corbeil, representatives from the Val-d’Or mayor’s office and this year’s official spokespeople, Mélissa Ratté and Daphnée Montambault.
Ratté, a Cree, and Montambault, a Québécoise, were two 14-year-old friends who served as spokespeople for this year’s anti-racism week. The girls appeared on radio and TV, and in newspapers to promote their message of friendship.
The President of Quebec Native Women, Ellen Gabriel, also took part in this year’s march after delivering a talk at the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
With the outstanding popularity of this year’s festivities, Cloutier said that she can hardly wait until next year’s event as it will be the 10-year anniversary of the week-long festivities and anti-racism march.
Over at the Cree Indian Centre of Chibougamau, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination festivities kicked off its annual Intercultural Friendship Week.
On March 21, the Centre brought together Native and non-Native peoples from Chibougamau and neighbouring communities to collaborate artistically in a shared intercultural creative space. Artists from Chibougamau, Chisasibi, Lac Simon and other areas participated through song, dance, spoken word and visual arts.
“We had the Screaming Eagles, the drummers from Lac Simon, and they electrified the room on a number of occasions. We also had Glenn Polson share his skills with the guitar to liven things up during the day. We had Jean Houde Bolduc who joined us on saxophone,” said Jo-Ann Toulouse, Executive Director of the CICC.
Local visual artists Anne-Marie Allard, Pierre Bureau, Charles Chabot and Mélanie Ménard collaborated to create pieces with First Nations artists while the musicians played and the poets spoke.
The primary works that these artists created are currently drying at the Friendship Centre, according to Toulouse, and are visually stunning at that.
“We also had Charles Chabot do an Inukshuk workshop with all of the children who stood still long enough,” said Tolouse, laughing. “We had about eight or nine little Inukshuks standing there – it was like a mini-Stonehenge.”
Throughout the day many individuals from Chibougamau and the surrounding First Nations communities dropped by the Centre to take part in the event borne out of solidarity. Every year the Centre gets its participants to dip their hands in paint and make a hand print on that year’s banner and sign it.
“Every year we put them out during our activities to say that these are the people that support the message that racism has to stop and who are willing to work towards it. It is a very evocative image,” said Toulouse.
Throughout the rest of the week, many other activities took place at the Centre and in Chibougamau in conjunction with the Friendship week.
Representatives from the Centre dropped by the elementary schools in Chibougamau to share a story called “Stone Soup” with the schoolchildren. The story is about working together and what a community can do as a whole as opposed to standing alone. The children were then given copies of the book to take home and share with their families.
Later on in the week, Pierre Lepage, an education agent for the Quebec Human Rights Commission, spoke at a sold-out lunch presentation at the Harricana Hotel. Lepage’s talk centered on the myths and realities of First Nations communities and their history which rarely makes it to the pages of Canadian history books.
In honour of the CICC Intercultural Friendship Week and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, on March 26, the Friendship Centre also signed a Declaration of Friendship with the Conseil central de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue et du Nord-du-Québec–CSN.
The idea was to work on improved relations between cultures and increased understanding between urban First Nations and the unionized workers of northern Quebec. One of the major goals of both groups with the declaration is to support the integration of Aboriginals into the labour market while diminishing discrimination and social exclusion.
Though the town of Chibougamau has not always had the best of relations with its First Nations neighbours, Toulouse said that for as much as she herself could acknowledge the problem, there is a movement towards change.
“There are people in Chibougamau who are interested very much in improving relations with First Nations as customers and as partners,” said Toulouse.
According to Toulouse, there is already action being taken in Chibougamau by its chamber of commerce as well as by other groups to ensure this happens.