Up to 300 people participated in the Val d’Or Native Friendship Centre’s fourth annual anti-racism march through the city’s downtown March 19 – and with a novel way of fighting prejudice.

As a way of celebrating the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (held March 21), marchers visited Val d’Or stores and asked owners to sign a declaration against racism. The owners were also encouraged to hang a copy of the declaration in their windows.

Tanya Charbonneau, the centre’s Community Development Director, said “the idea came about after a racist comment was overheard at a store in Val d’Or, about wanting to get all those Indians off the sidewalk.”

This prompted employees at the Native Friendship Centre to wonder how they could promote harmony and equality in the community. Thus, the walk was not simply a show of anti-racism placards and shouts against racism in all its forms, but a way of directly involving local business in the fight against racism.

The theme for this years’ walk was “Racism has no place in Val d’Or.” Participants included both Native and nonnatives, young and old, with students from schools in the area and 15 people from the Senneterre Native Friendship Centre who traveled the 70 kilometres to Val d’Or to show their support. About 200 signatures were collected for the declaration.

The walk started at the Friendship Centre, continued down Main Street with a stop at city hall, then returned to the Friendship Centre for a gathering with coffee and bannock. At city hall, Val d’Or Mayor Fernand Trahan signed the declaration on behalf of his citizens and gave a short speech. He spoke about the importance of the economic relationship with Natives, a relationship that came about long ago.

This is the 36th celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The United Nations made the declaration in 1966 and Canada was one of the first countries to support it. The annual Canadian March 21 campaign to stop racism began in 1989 with the goal of raising awareness of the harmful effects of racism on the national level and to demonstrate the commitment and leadership of the federal government to cultivate respect, equality and diversity. Youth are encouraged to participate in the popular “Racism, stop it” video competition.

Racism against Canada’s Native people is a “big problem,” says Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine. “Blatant racism and hatred are things that our people experience daily. This is the sad reality.”

From an upstanding Cree man being refused a hotel room, to skewed media reports that paint natives in an unfavourable light, to individuals being refused an apartment based on a last name that sounds “native,” this is the reality of which he speaks. Through the March 21st video campaign and the website though, thousands of youth are speaking their minds and saying that racism is not acceptable, that just as racism has no place in Val d’Or, it has no place anywhere across our country.