The administration of newly elected mayor Valérie Plante is off to a good start. She cancelled the traffic-inducing ridiculously expensive publicity stunt called the “Formula E” races and in a move long overdue, has appointed an Indigenous Commissioner to the city’s administration. Her choice for the post is Cree lawyer Marie-Ève Bordeleau.
This article is about her, the importance of her appointment, and who she will help.
When people think of Montreal’s indigenous community, they unfortunately think of alcoholics and panhandlers that work primarily in the city’s downtown core.
Their stories are much more than that.
The city was founded by Indigenous people, and the suffering of much of the community is a direct result of the impact of colonialism. Though a 2015 survey indicates that Natives make up one-point six percent of Montreal’s population, they make up over ten percent of its homeless.
Indigenous Montrealers face discrimination at every level from accessing basic health care to finding a place to live. Many renters in the city refuse to lease to Indigenous Canadians and those who do are usually slumlords. Quebec police forces have earned a reputation for treating them more severely than whites, and the city’s Indigenous support groups have been calling on the municipal authorities to cooperate with them to make Montreal a better place for their people.
The idea of appointing an Indigenous Commissioner is not a new one. In January 2017 then-mayor Denis Coderre announced that he would appoint one following a meeting he had with aboriginal groups. At the same time, Coderre promised to run an aboriginal candidate in the upcoming election and have native staff members on his campaign.
The city’s indigenous groups were justifiably skeptical, as white politicians have a long history of promising action to Native communities with no follow-through. True to their skepticism, Coderre did none of this and thankfully Mayor Plante is working to fix it.
Montreal’s Indigenous Commissioner has a lot of work to do. Appointed for a term of three years, she is tasked with developing a reconciliation strategy for the city of Montreal with regards to its Indigenous population. She must also advise the mayor on the best ways of building bridges between the city’s administration, its indigenous population, and the rest of the citizenry. She must lead working groups consisting of representatives from municipal departments on how best to include indigenous perspectives in the drafting of laws and regulations.
On top of all that, the Indigenous Commissioner must address the issue of homelessness within the community. As the newly appointed commissioner has said, it’s really “a project of collective healing.”
The appointment of an Indigenous Commissioner to the municipal administration is a big deal as it is a recognition that Montreal cannot continue to neglect its Native population. It must, however, be stressed that the importance of this appointment goes beyond symbolism and one glance at Marie-Ève Bordeleau’s impressive resumé confirms this.
Who is Marie-Ève Bordeleau?
Marie-Ève Bordeleau is a lawyer from Senneterre who studied at Université Laval. Her father is Cree from Waswanipi and her mother is Quebecoise.
After graduating law school, she was selected by The Pacific Center for Public Integrity, a non-governmental organization, to work with Indigenous communities in Fiji. From there, Bordeleau worked at the firm of Morin and Murdoch where she worked Indigenous law cases that required her to travel throughout the reserves in the Baie James area. She was also involved the in 2015 Val D’Or crisis in which provincial police were accused of abusing indigenous people, especially women, in their custody.
Perhaps the most significant characteristic of our new Indigenous Commissioner’s career is the clear dedication to improving the lives of Indigenous people.
In 2016 she started a mobile mediation service for Indigenous communities with her colleague, Martha Montour. It’s office is located in Kahnawake and offers mediation services – a way for two parties in a conflict to work out their differences in a structured environment outside a courtroom – in the fields of family law, labour law, as well as between Indigenous organizations and tribal councils.
Bordeleau has also traveled across Canada consulting with those who run shelters for Indigenous women fleeing family violence and has met with their directors and aid workers in order to develop legal tools to best help them. In the interviews she’s given, she expresses her outrage at the discrimination faced by Native women.
In 2016 she told Droit Inc., an online legal journal, that she thinks the Commission on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is a step in the right direction for the Federal government, but like all Indigenous people dealing with a mostly white government, she knows their intentions are good but they still must prove themselves through action.
What Bordeleau has constantly stressed is that Indigenous communities need more resources, including greater access to grants and subsidies and financing parity between the institutions and organizations of these communities. She has noted in the past that one key to healing relations between Indigenous communities and provincial and federal governments is that the latter formally recognize that the problems facing Canada’s Indigenous people are due to the impact of colonization.
Montreal’s new Commissioner of Indigenous Affairs is more than just a symbolic post. It is an indication that the city is truly committed to healing relations with its Native population and working actively to improve their lives. Mayor Plante could have appointed any Indigenous leader to the post, but instead she chose a woman whose career has been distinguished by its proven commitment to recognizing and fixing the problems facing her people.
If anyone can promote healing between Montreal and its Indigenous community, it’s Marie-Ève Bordeleau.
With her at the helm, there’s hope for the future.
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