Former general director of DestiNATIONS, Marie-Josée Parent, was elected in Verdun during Montreal’s municipal elections earlier this month. (Courtesy Marie-Josée Parent)
The island of Montreal’s citizens heralded in a series of firsts during the municipal elections November 5.
In addition to electing a woman as mayor for the firs time, Verdun citizens elected, for the first time, an Indigenous woman to Montreal’s city council.
On Thursday, Marie-Josée Parent was officially sworn into office.
“I’m very proud of being elected, it’s an achievement and it’s a very strange feeling to feel that you’re neighbours chose you because I was elected in my neighbourhood,” Parent told The Eastern Door.
“It’s also new. There’s a lot of things to learn, it’s a lot of new information, it’s also exciting and I feel very responsible with this new task at hand.”
The 34-year-old, who is Mi’gmaq and Acadian, said her experience working for DestiNATIONS and with the city on their reconciliation strategy for the past two years inspired her to run for office.
“I was interested in continuing to work for my community, but I was interested in having new tools to do the work that I started,” she said.
“Working closely with the city made me realize all of the things that you can do when you’re a public policy lover like myself. It made me, oh you know, maybe my next step where I can bring the changes I want to bring is being an elected official and working for the city.”
Parent said she felt more work on reconciliation needed to be done by the city through her role as director general of DestiNATIONS, a project that emerged as a priority from the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network to focused on Indigenous arts and culture with hopes of building a world-class multifunctional venue in Montreal’s downtown core.
“We cannot be building a project like this, a cultural centre like that one and not have a city that leads the way. We’re changing the architecture of Montreal, we’re changing the landscape and adding a very strong Indigenous signature. We need to recognize the land we’re on, and have a city that supports that initiative,” said Parent.
Now that she’s been voted in, she said she hopes to continue working on the city’s reconciliation policy during her four-year term. Parent ran as a part of Equipe Denis Coderre and is now a part of the opposition, but said she hopes for collaboration on reconciliation with the new mayor.
“To me, being elected goes beyond partisanship. It’s serving citizens, and if we have similar values and we want to see great things. I really hope I can continue to work on bringing awareness to Indigenous issues and making Montreal a reconciliation city – not as an aesthetic idea, but something that really changes how we do things,” said Parent.
“I really don’t want that word to become a co-opted word for politicians to look good. I really want it to become something where things are changing, for the better for our society. To me, that means recognizing our history, our ways of doing things, and that our past hasn’t been the greatest. Reconciliation cannot come without truth and without healing, and I think it’s a process that belongs to all Canadians.”
The reconciliation work done in the recent months between the mayor’s office and Kanien’kehá:ka communities is something the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake wishes continues as well.
Council chief Christine Zachary-Deom was in attendance for Thursday’s swearing-in-ceremony
“We’ve had an excellent an exceptional situation, and have been supported on many levels because there was this agenda being pushed that we should have this recognition and inclusion – I dread that it would stop because it’s so important for the Onkwehón:we people,” said Zachary-Deom.
According to the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, in addition to Parent, only a handful of the 65 councilors elected are members of visible minorities.
“I think it’s very problematic that we don’t have a representation of the cultural diversity of the city in city hall,” said Parent.
“To me, it shows that we will still have a lot of work to do to be proud of our diversity in Montreal. We need to work on celebrating that strength, and seeing that as a strength, and seeing differences as something positive that can nourish us as a society.”
She said being the first Onkwehón:we woman elected in Montreal’s history will hopefully spark more of Montreal’s Indigenous community to run next election.
“This is a first, but it definitely not the last, and I really hope that the Indigenous community living in Montreal will see that this government can also be their government, and that we can all participate to change our city,” said Parent.
“I think we need to be involved, and we need to be involved in every aspect of our society, that’s how we can also continue to hope and create and maintain relationships that are authentic and will change things with all First Nations, Metis, and Inuit.”