First Nations leaders call on premier to meet within 24 hours over Val d'Or abuse allegations
Published Tuesday, October 27, 2015 6:40AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 28, 2015 8:07AM EDT
First Nations chiefs and leaders from across Quebec and Labrador are reacting swiftly with demands for the provincial and federal governments into the treatment of indigenous women.
They are asking for an independent inquiry into the allegations that surfaced last week that nine Surete du Quebec officers systematically sexually, physically and mentally abused First Nations women who live in Val d’Or.
Eight of the officers were suspended Friday. The other accused officer is deceased.
They are calling on Premier Philippe Couillard to meet the council of First Nations leaders immediately to discuss how to deal with racism and violence against aboriginal women.
“The first person responsible is Premier Couillard. He needs to be here in the next 24 hours to meet with the First Nations right away,” said Grand Chief Ghislain Picard in a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
The First Nations chiefs said there must also be an independent inquiry into the abused allegations in Val d’Or
“For this to work, it has to be independent,” and not handled by the Montreal police force said Cree Chief Matthew Coon Come, who also said that First Nations investigators must be involved. “The situation that happened this past weekend is unacceptable. Atrocities committed by the powers that be are totally unacceptable.”
They are also giving Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau 30 days to launch a national inquiry into murdered and missing women.
“There needs to be concrete measures,” said Coon Come.
The group further stated that it wants to ensure there remains support for the women affected, their families and communities.
About 40 First Nations chiefs and leaders met in Val d’Or Tuesday to come up with the collective position on the matter.
“Contrary to what Mr. Prudhomme is saying, this region is in crisis,” said Picard, referring to comments made by SQ Chief Martin Prud'Homme, who believes tensions will subside in the town 525 kilometres northwest of Montreal.
"There's a total breakdown in the trust" between the police and First Nations people in the community, he said.
Picard of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador invited the chiefs to the meeting, which will take place at the local Native Friendship Centre, where the women first made their allegations.
"Chiefs are considering options for immediate measures in order to respond to the broken relationship between our nations and the Surete du Quebec. The Government of Quebec must respond to this culture of indifference when our members are the victims. Profound change is needed and we need to see this crisis addressed now," Picard said in a news release.
Jimmy Papatie’s cousin is one of the alleged victims. He said what’s happening now – the dialogue, the meetings – are important, because women in the community had never talked about what they went through before they came forward.
“There’s a wall of silence between our people and non-natives who live on our land. To break it, we need to face the truth also, by not living in denial,” he said.
Lucy Trapper works at the Mistissini Health Centre, about 500 kilometres north east of Val d’Or. She said she remembers hearing whispers about the allegations about a year and a half ago, but nothing ever came of them.
“With this happening, it’s like ‘Wow. This is true, this is really happening to aboriginal women,’ especially the vulnerable ones,” she said.
The SQ had been undertaking an internal investigation into the allegations, but the probe was ordered to be turned over to the Montreal police.
Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations in Montreal, says the transfer raises issues that go beyond the question of whether police should be investigating the police. He said the aboriginal community in Val d’Or may be suspicious of the Montreal police force.
“You have a predominantly white police department coming in and looking into possible wrongdoings of another predominantly white police department, in which the victims are aboriginal women -- I think the equation is very clear,” he said.
There are calls for a public inquiry into these allegations, one that would be separate from a national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women.
Quebec’s Native Affairs Minister Geoff Kelley said Monday the province will wait and see what action, if any, the new federal government will take before making a decision.