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Canada 'Start speaking up for us,' Indigenous woman tells public inquiry in Montreal

22:31  12 february  2018
22:31  12 february  2018 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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021218-0213_city_inquiry_3640:  © Vincenzo D'Alto

Like thousands of other First Nations people across Canada, Sedalia Kawennotas was angry and frustrated by the acquittal on Friday of a Saskatchewan farmer who fatally shot an Indigenous man who was on his property.

On Monday, Kawennotas was one of the first witnesses to testify at a public inquiry into relations between Quebec’s Indigenous people and government institutions that opened in Montreal. She used the platform to call for changes to the justice system and better education for students and new immigrants to Canada about the history and hardship faced by First Nations people.

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“People need to start speaking up for us, our children are no different than your children,” Kawennotas told the inquiry, headed by retired Superior Court Justice Jacques Viens. “(Farmer Gerald Stanley) would be in jail right now if that had been a white boy, but it was only a native kid.”

The hearings, which are open to the public, are taking place at the Palais des Congrès over the next two weeks. Viens will hear from members of the local Mohawk community who have experienced discrimination, its leaders, community workers who deal with Aboriginal people, and university professors.

The inquiry — Listening, Reconciliation and Progress — began in Val-d’Or in 2017 and has already heard from 131 witnesses. It will look at the way different government services, such as police, health care, correctional, youth protection, justice and social services, have been delivered to Indigenous people over the past 15 years, in an effort to “prevent or eliminate … all forms of violence and discriminatory practices.”

Calls for an inquiry grew in 2016 after an investigation into allegations that provincial police abused Indigenous women in Val-d’Or concluded there was not enough evidence to lay charges.

Viens will offer recommendations to the government when he submits his report in September, 2019.

The inquiry can be viewed live at cerp.gouv.qc.ca.

kwilton@postmedia.com

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