Intercultural studies 

ANG 160 Fall 2005

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The interracial tension in Sept-Îles

(by Naomi Daigle)

Sept-Îles is one of the main cities on the north shore of Québec. It is made up of the town of Sept-Îles, but also of the towns of Clarke City,

 

Chris P. Sampson 2005. http://www.photo.net/photos/SampsonPhoto

 
Gallix and Moisie. What makes it unique, besides its breath taking scenery, is the fact that a Montagnais or Innu reserve is nestled within the town. Most of the 2803 members of the tribe living in the area live in the Uushat reserve.[1] My family and I moved to Sept-Îles a few years ago. As outsiders, we had the opportunity to sense the dynamics of the city in a fresh way. We were surprised to discover that there was a strong interracial tension within Sept-Îles. My siblings were even warned by their classmates to “watch out for those Indians”. This was a useless warning because my siblings are part Native and have grown up surrounded by Native culture. Our whole purpose for being in Sept-Îles was to be involved in the Montagnais culture, as my father had organized a translation project and a conference on suicide within the Uashat reserve.

 Apart from the comments made by White classmates, there are several other subtle examples of how the Whites and the Natives, though living in close proximity, were living in conflict with each other. In Sept-Îles, there are five Tim Horton’s coffee shops, and there is only one where Native people can be seen chatting and drinking coffee. Even then, mostly men are seen there. The women are reticent to be seen in town very often. They do not even shop in the White boutiques that are in the mall on the reserve. They go to the one and only department store instead. In a shoe store in the reserve mall, my mother heard a young white male sales clerk slipped a racist comment about the Montagnais women into a casual conversation with his clients. The topic of interracial marriages or casual relationships was also a touchy subject. While I was in the city a little race riot began at the recreation center where I was working and then moved to the reserve.  This involved baseball bats, sticks covered with nails and people’s cars being smashed. What started this uproar was the fact that a native boy was dating a white girl. Another quiet form of racism was the paternalistic behaviour that some white teachers, bosses or preachers had towards the poor Natives. Of course, the racism also came from the Montagnais as a reaction to their mistreatment.

One can never be clear about how interracial tension begins. It is certain that some of the conflicts experienced today were caused by the first settlers “othering” the Natives that they “discovered” in the new world. Some of the early preconceived notions of the “other”, which stem from the ethnocentrism of Europeans, are still present today. For example, in the Sept-Îles community, the Innus are perceived as violent, lazy and uneducated. Land ownership and treaty rights are also a historical cause for division. The Québec government has been trying to settle this debate for the past years[2]. Some white citizens are scared that more of their land will be given to the Innu nation and that they will be pushed out of the land the government ascribed to them.

It is hard to know if the White and the Innus in this beautiful city will find the power to forgive each other. It may take many generations to resolve this ongoing problem of prejudice.


[1] Ville de Sept-Iles. Les Innus, premiers habitants. http://www.ville.sept-iles.qc.ca/index.php?sec=a&loc=12

[2] Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones. Affaires autochtones et développement du Québec: franchir ensemble une nouvelle étape.2005. http://www.versuntraite.com/