It’s a Canadian first: Montreal is the only city in the country to appoint a Commissioner of Indigenous Affairs.
Marie-Eve Bordeleau will be responsible for promoting what she calls the “Indigenous Reflex.”
“Every time that we can develop a policy in Montreal, or if there will be a project that will be affecting the Indigenous community, that we will have the reflex and will think that we will take those steps towards reconciliation,” Bordeleau explained at a press conference Friday.
“Thinking Nation to Nation, and government to government,” she added.
Bordeleau is a lawyer who comes from a Cree background. She’s also worked as a mediator between governments – it’s this experience that she believes will be an asset in her new duties.
One of the priority subjects that Bordeleau wants to explore is the relationship between local police and Native communities in Montreal. When asked why this area was of particular concern, she said she preferred not to comment.
However, Mayor Valerie Plante said that integrating more Indigenous members into law enforcement may be the key to strengthening an otherwise fragile relationship.
“[We are] making sure this is something we consider in the policies we put forward, and hiring is one of them,” Plante told reporters Friday.
In 2016, only 7 per cent of police officers constituted visible minorities.
However, by contrast – Native communities in Montreal are burgeoning.
Between 2001 and 2011, the Native population in Montreal increased by 177 per cent – Plante said there are more Indigenous people living in Montreal than in any other city or town.
Part of the commissioner’s role is to advise the mayor on concrete measures to help First Nations people, extending beyond cultural displays at events – it means improving their everyday life and opportunities, Bordeleau explained.
“We want to ensure that their life here is as enjoyable as your life here in Montreal,” she said.
One of Bordeleau’s first tasks will come next week: the provincial inquiry into the treatment of Indigenous peoples will have a hearing in Montreal, shifting the focus to the community members and their perspectives as citizens of the same city.
“Only they can explain the challenge they face, and they kind of barriers they face when trying to get their services,” said Christine Zachary-Deom of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.
It will be a chance, community members say, for all to hear why Bordeleau’s appointment as community representative is long overdue.