The Native Friendship Centre of Val d’Or doesn’t do things in a small way. It looked at racial discrimination eight years ago and decided to do something about it. It’s a process that has grown from a march to a week-long schedule of activities.
As Friendship Centre president Jacqueline Kistabish said, “It will always be part of our mission to let people know about Aboriginals and to get to know those who are not. I’m from an Algonquin/Cree family, even amongst the Algonquin there is discrimination. Together we can make miracles, I believe that. We are proud to be part of the movement to promote tolerance and acceptance of differences on this International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 21) organized by the United Nations in 1986 and celebrated in Canada since 1989.”
Kistabish was backed up by numerous speakers including the official spokesperson Samian, a role model and singer. He talked about his own difficulties. “I’m Metis. I’ve been a victim of discrimination. Aboriginals would not accept me because I was too white and white people didn’t accept me because I’m Aboriginal. I like to be on stage to express myself. I am very proud to be the spokesperson for this event.”
Edith Cloutier, the executive director of the Friendship Centre, welcomes the many mayors who turned out for the event and said. “It’s important because the cities are where Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals interact. I would like to thank you all for being here in such large numbers. It shows the road we have traveled together to fight racism and discrimination in Val d’Or and in Abitibi because this year the event is growing.” Cloutier said these actions are aimed at breaking down prejudices and constructing bridges between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. “In Val d’Or the initiative is carried out by the First Nations but we know that we have cohabitation and openness challenges in Quebec, which are at the centre of discussions. This year, we have called on organizations and institutions that represent us, Aboriginals and Quebecers, so they can fight against any form of discrimination by signing, in the name of their fellow citizens, a friendship declaration between nations.” Algonquin Deputy Grand Chief Marlene Jerome talked about her jewelry pointing to the fact it had four colours – red, black, white and yellow. “Today I wear a symbol; it represents the four colours of each People. It represents unity and international peace; this is a vision that our Elders had. We try to uphold this vision because we really believe in it. I think it’s important to coexist, to work together, and to promote such values as love that take away all prejudices. Also important are sharing and cultural diversity. It is important to know the other person. Ignorance brings prejudice, racism, and I believe it’s important to live as a nation, that each nation respects who they are; to show our youth those examples. It’s important to participate in activities like this.”
Jerome said the Aboriginal people have a lot to share with non-Natives. One of the events would be a pow wow on March 22. When Jerome talked she reached a lot of people something she attributed to “I didn’t prepare for today but I speak from the heart, that’s what our elders showed us, to speak and do things from the heart. Let’s continue this work. Yes, each day we have hard moments, but those are opportunities to find solutions for a better life.”
Louise Bryce and Vincent Rousson, from the Cegep de lAbitibi-Temiscamingue and Universite du Quebec en Abitibi-Temiscamingue (UQAT) respectively, were on hand to describe their part in the events to lessen racism.
Bryce said, “We’ve prepared many activities which will end with the gathering for the march. We prepared an activity on racial discrimination awareness in the form of a game with questions on myths and realities. We hope that it will encourage reflection and discussions among students.”
“On March 20, we have a lunch for the march and the show but you will also have the chance to hear Ellen Gabriel, the president of the Association of Aboriginal Women of Quebec, who will come to speak about discrimination based on gender. This will be done in English. We want to thank the Native Friendship Centre for inviting us since there are more and more Aboriginals on the campus.”
Even the local daycare is getting into the battle because as general manager France-Claude Goyette said, “For us, racial discrimination is like a virus at the CPE (Centre de la petite enfance). We believe that the closer we get to the kids, the closer we get to the parents, that the virus doesn’t exist at that age. I’ve been at the CPE for five years and I’ve never encountered that virus. We firmly believe that by cultivating tolerance and knowledge of different cultures for our kids, they will grow up immune to this racial discrimination which contributes to all this violence. It’s one of our biggest wishes.”
Jean-Maurice Matte, of the Regional Conference of the Inuit of Abitibi-Temiscamingue, said they are proud to be a part of the anti-racism week and said there was a lot of positive energy at the Friendship Centre and it showed in their work. “The population has to mobilize against racial discrimination and it’s by participating in activities like this one that we will learn more about our populations, and put an end to racial discrimination,” said Matte. “We will have the chance to get to know each other better, Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, by participating in activities.”
Jane Lavery, from the Western Quebec School Board, said they are very proud to join in the cause against racial discrimination. She said, “In order to do this we offer different services to the Aboriginal population year-round. Our schools’ mission is to teach, socialize and qualify, and each school has projects which help Aboriginal students to succeed. There are activities on being aware of differences between different cultures and throughout our community, activities against violence, against racism. Different activities and demonstrations will take place during this week. Many of our primary and secondary schools will take part in the march on March 20 and we are very proud of that. Our school board is proud to promote values like the respect of differences, cooperation, justice, and equality of opportunity to its staff and its partners in order to see its values develop.”