The two spokespersons for this year’s event were from the health and social services sectors: Dr. Stanley Vollant, an Innu surgeon who visited the Val-d’Or area in 2013 during his Innu Meshkanu Walk, and Jacques Boissonneault, the CEO of the Health and Social Services Agency of Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
According to Edith Cloutier, Executive Director of the Val-d’Or Native Friendship Centre, Vollant and Boissonneault were chosen because of their influential positions in their respective professions. The two participated in various media and social events.
The weeklong activities culminated in the traditional Gabriel-Commanda walk March 20 when an estimated crowd of 1500 from all backgrounds marched shoulder to shoulder against racism in beautiful weather through the streets of Val-d’Or in a celebration of solidarity and culture.
Cloutier said professionals play important roles in addressing discrimination.
“I had the opportunity to make a presentation recently to the 40 department supervisors on the CSSS-Vallée-de-l’Or on the issue of discrimination and how prejudice and racism can have an effect of the quality of services and on the health of Natives in the health system,” she noted.
She took the opportunity to distribute 1000 magnets that bore the image for the event’s 15th anniversary – a Powwow dancer.
While professionals may have been the focus, the city’s youngest members of society were also included as the Friendship Centre distributed a materials kit for teachers at primary and secondary levels that included suggestions for activities on the theme of discrimination and racism.
“We had four schools with three primary levels and one secondary level testing the material this year. We will do an evaluation and try to increase the number of schools and teachers interested in this material,” said Cloutier. “Again this year, we were impressed by the level of preparation of the kids from the schools who came with their posters and banners with positive messages like ‘Stop Racism’ and ‘Happiness can exist only in acceptance’.”
And, as art is one of the many ways to transcend cultural barriers, Cloutier said that they added a special concert event with Innu performer Florent Vollant.
Rounding up the end of the march, special performances at an outdoor stage featured traditional Anishnabe drummers, the Screaming Eagles from Lac Simon, a dance performance by Pikogan’s Malik Kistabish and non-Native locals the Rolks.
Local Elders spoke just prior to the march. “They shared with the young people a message of hope and friendship, inviting the people that were there to shake hands with another person they didn’t know. It was a simple but efficient gesture,” said Cloutier.