The Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network has just been officially launched to ensure that the 18,000 Aboriginals in the Greater Montreal Area get their needs met and are properly consulted when it comes to addressing their needs.

While anyone moving to an urban setting like Montreal experiences some difficulty adjusting to a new life, and as Aboriginals often come from more difficult realities or may experience more difficulty adjusting because they are from small and remote places, the transition can be difficult.

This is why the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network has come together with over 500 members comprised of organizations and individuals from three levels of government (municipal, provincial and federal) as well as the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and the Makavik Corporation to promote a different message and a new approach. Together they will work to seek out new solutions and joint efforts through shared responsibility.

On November 3, representatives from each of these groups held a press conference in downtown Montreal to unveil their new strategy as well as a new logo and a directory of resources offered to Montreal’s Aboriginal community. Not only was the event a press launch but it was also a celebration featuring a Native drumming circle and a hoop dance performance.

Jane Cowell-Poitras, from the City of Montreal, spoke at the conference to assure the public that the city is committed to working with Aboriginals to help them integrate into the metropolis.

In keeping with this commitment, she spoke about how Montreal had contributed monetarily along with the Secrétariat aux affaires autochotones, the Office of the Federal Interlocutor of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the First Nations Human Resources Development Commission of Quebec so that the Network could hire a fulltime coordinator who will ensure that there is seasonal gatherings for the members. Montreal is also hosting the online version of the resource directory on its website.

“There are also a lot of things that are quietly going on behind the scenes. The police are getting involved and we are working more closely with community groups because Aboriginals are becoming more and more of our homeless population in Montreal. It is really important for us to have our hands in all over the place,” said Cowell-Poitras.

Makivik Corporation President Pita Aatami expressed his pride to be taking part in a network that could only serve to help Inuit in Montreal, particularly as there are a growing number of his people sleeping on Montreal streets.

“It can’t hurt to get some kind of a network to help Aboriginal people living in Montreal who have lived in very small communities before they moved here. A lot of the time it is hard for these people to move to a city of two million people when they have only lived in a community of 300 before,” said Aatami.

In her address, Network co-chair Odile Joannette described how Quebec’s Aboriginals are part of a history that has led to them being on the lowest end of the socio-economic scale in the province. But they are now part of the future that will be built as a result of these new efforts.

The Network will been broken down into a series of groups to focus on specific areas that include: art and culture, communications, employability-training and education, youth, health, social services and a steering committee. These groups will meet regularly to ensure that urban Aboriginals are consulted when it comes to programs and services geared towards them so that needs are met.

Still, according to Nakuset, the Network’s other co-chair and Executive Director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal, many of the groups within the Network are still in the process of needs assessment and there is much ground yet to cover.

“Things are really happening and I am very proud. It is exciting and surreal to sit here and see all of this,” said Nakuset.

While thrilled that so many major players within the Network participated in the press conference and the meeting that took place after, Nakuset acknowledged that many of the committees have a lot of work to do before they actually see more services offered. But at least the committees are in place and are assessing the needs of urban Aboriginals.

“We already know that we need a men’s shelter/healing shelter. There are none. There’s a Native women’s shelter, there’s Quebec Native Women Inc, but there’s nothing specifically for men. They have PAC, but PAC is for men and women, we need something more exclusive for men,” said Nakuset.