Reviewing the progress made by the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network

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A decade ago, Nakuset, the Executive Director of the Montreal Native Women’s Shelter, took it upon herself to gather together as many Native groups as possible to see what issues could be address and goals accomplished by working together. Today, the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network is a working reality.

At the time, her goal was to have some influence at Batshaw Youth and Family Services because Indigenous children were frequently being separated from their families. As a result, those families had difficulties keeping children connected with their culture. Social workers may not have understood some of behaviours, which, in many cases, was appropriate within the context of the child’s reserve or territory but deemed inappropriate when taken out of that context. Often the result was that these children would be deprived of their culture and frequently punished for the way they were raised.

This was something Nakuset would witness firsthand as Indigenous women transitioned out of the shelter. Often destitute and starting over from scratch, these women would need proper housing or face having their children placed in the system. Once there, the same cycle of cultural genocide would begin all over again.

Having seen this played out many times, Nakuset brought together various Indigenous organizations to see if she could get the word out that Indigenous foster parents were needed and, when they couldn’t find any, she created a guide for foster parents of other backgrounds about Indigenous children so that their behaviour wouldn’t be misunderstood.

On April 24, Nakuset looked around the room at a conference at UQAM where recommendations and strategic plans were being presented by Percolab, a consulting company that spent the last six months conferring with all the groups that participate in the Network. She said she was amazed at how far the Network had come in the last 10 years.

“When I look at everything that we have accomplished, it’s insane what we have done and are able to now do,” said Nakuset. “When we started this movement there weren’t the same kinds of advances that we now have now in terms of media. Today we have a higher presence, thanks to Twitter and other social media.”

As for Batshaw, she said that while it was a tough nut to crack, but like any of the initiatives the Network has been working on, they have to be Native-led. Getting Indigenous people to get involved in politics and other leadership positions is what will effect change.

While the Network had earlier made a deal with Service de police de la Ville de Montréal to consult with Indigenous groups when dealing with Indigenous people, the SPVM didn’t keep their promise.

“We are supposed to have this comité autochtone and we are supposed to hold the police accountable, but the whole thing has been bullshit. Now Marie-Ève Bordeleau is on that committee and she is going to run it, so now we will see change. This is what the Network is all about. It is always changing. We see a lot more Indigenous people in leadership roles. I run a shelter but I am not in a leadership position, but now Marie-Ève is,” said Nakuset.

After willing last November’s municipal election, Mayor Valérie Plante named Bordeleau as Montreal’s Commissioner of Indigenous Affairs. And, the hope is that other Indigenous youth will follow in her footsteps and take positions of power to represent Indigenous peoples so they can have a say and that say will carry weight.

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