Verdun elects first Indigenous city councillor in Montreal history
Published Saturday, November 11, 2017 3:53PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, November 11, 2017 6:28PM EST
When the City of Montreal’s new administration is sworn in, Marie Josee Parent will make history as the city’s first First Nations city councillor.
Elected in Verdun, Parent said she is eager to represent a community that for much of Montreal’s history was ignored in the annals of power.
“I do feel a great deal of responsibility to have our issues heard at city hall and talk about our history, have it recognized and have a space where we can talk frankly about our common history and what we can do to live better together, today,” she said.
“I don’t want to impose a voice on the Indigenous community. I’m only one person, the community is between 25,000 and 40,000 individuals. Everyone has their voices, their perspective and I think it’s important to respect the diversity of opinions, backgrounds and cultures in the First Nations community.”
Native advocate Nakuset said she believes Parent is the first of what will be a trend of First Nations people making their way into Montreal's municipal politics.
"Indigenous people haven't always lived in the cities, so it's a new thing," she said. "Most Native people want to live in their communities and be part of the council in their communities."
Nakuset said she's known Parent for several years and described her as "smart as a whip."
"She was so clear in her vision about what she wanted," she said. "She was so organized... It's hard to impress me but I was so incredibly impressed with her as soon as I met her."
Parent has a history of interaction with the city’s political structure, having worked on Montreal’s reconciliation policy for the past several years. She said she thinks the city is at a good place in its progress with relations with the Native community.
“It’s incredible what’s been worked on,” she said. “The strategies we’re putting forward are unique in Canada, very much inspired by Vancouver. At this point, I think it’s a world of possibilities.”
Parent ran as part of Equipe Denis Coderre and was elected after what she described as a hard-fought campaign. Now that she’s been voted in, she said she plans to make social housing a priority but also plans to focus on culture as a vital part of the city’s reconciliation policy.
“We need to have more Indigenous visibility, we need our design to be in the public space, our art to be in the public space,” she said. “We need to recognize visually that Montreal is an Indigenous city and for everybody to be proud of that.”
While Parent recognizes she will be looked at to represent Montreal’s large Native community, it was the people of Verdun who voted for her. To that end, she looks forward to working with Verdun Mayor Jean-Francois Parenteau and to representing the people of the borough. Among her priorities are more sports infrastructure for families, programs for the elderly and the youth and also ensuring snow removal and road upkeep are done properly.
“These are little things that when you look at all of them really improve the quality of life of citizens and that’s why I decided to run in municipal politics,” she said.
While her election is historic, Parent said it’s too recent for her to fully appreciate why it took so long for a First Nations person to be elected to city council.
“I think there’s a recognition of colonization,” she said. “Just that is a hard thing to do, it’s not easy to recognize there has been colonization and we have been part of that. It took a while. I think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission really helped our entire country look at our past and our actions and acknowledge some of the important damages done to Indigenous communities.”