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The Governor-General was in the midst of swearing in the Trudeau cabinet when aboriginal leaders and the Premier of Quebec called on Ottawa to rise to a greater role in promoting the well-being of aboriginal communities – starting with an expanded inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women.
Quebec and the aboriginal leaders met Wednesday to try to work out a plan to address grievances exposed raw by a police abuse scandal in the Northern Quebec mining town of Val-d'Or. Eight Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officers have been suspended amid accusations they abused local indigenous women.
Premier Philippe Couillard announced that the province will spend $6-million on reinforcing housing and other community services in Val-d'Or, and he named an independent monitor – human rights scholar Fannie Lafontaine – to oversee the abuse investigation being conducted by the Montreal police.
Native leaders called on Quebec to launch a separate provincial judicial inquiry into the relationship between indigenous communities and the province. While the federal government is responsible for aboriginal affairs, native people have daily interactions with many provincial services, including health, welfare, police, child services and the police.
"We need an independent inquiry into the relationship between our peoples and the Sûreté du Québec," said Ghislain Picard, the Quebec chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
"I am disappointed," said Matthew Coon Come, grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees. "The federal inquiry will deal with missing and murdered and dead women. It does not deal with the present living. This is why we pushed for a provincial judicial inquiry."
Tensions are rising in aboriginal communities amid growing reports of abuses. In Val-d'Or, women say they were forced by officers to perform sex acts and were abandoned outside town. After those allegations were aired on Radio-Canada, three women in other parts of Quebec stepped forward with other accusations against SQ officers. La Presse documented 259 violent and mysterious deaths of aboriginal children in Quebec since 2000 – many of them under social services surveillance.
Mr. Couillard called for calm and asked for patience while awaiting the mandate Ottawa will create for the inquiry. "It seems logical to me that the mandate for the inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women include the question of relations between security forces and First Nations," he said.
The leaders, however, were on the same page when it came to the hope for renewal in the relationship between Ottawa and indigenous peoples.
"The federal government has long withdrawn from its fiduciary duty toward First Nations in a country as rich as we are – communities that don't have running water or electricity," Mr. Couillard said. "I call on them to re-exercise this role they should not have left aside."
The aboriginal leaders welcomed the cabinet appointments of Carolyn Bennett to Indigenous and Northern Affairs and aboriginal lawyer Jody Wilson-Raybould to Justice. Ms. Bennett was a staunch advocate for aboriginal issues in opposition, and Ms. Wilson-Raybould was an AFN regional chief.
"I know [Ms. Wilson-Raybould's] expertise and her relentlessness in ensuring the federal government of the time was listening to First Nations issues," Mr. Picard said. "I'm sure she will continue in the same vein now that she's minister."