Marjolaine Étienne is taking over the reins of Quebec Native Women from Viviane Michel, who led the group for almost a decade, after being elected by members of the non-profit at a general assembly in Montreal last weekend.
“I’m feeling very touched, very honoured,” Étienne said. “The issues and the realities faced by Indigenous women, whether it’s in urban areas or in Indigenous communities, those are things I know. I’ve lived them in my community.”
Étienne is Innu from Mashtieuatsh, home to the Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation, located in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region, north of Quebec City.
She says she sees the role of QNW as an organization that offers programs, services, and support to women living in situations of violence and marginalization and actively defends the rights of all Indigenous women.
One of her priorities is seeing “concrete results” implementing the recommendations of Quebec’s Viens Commission and the national report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
In 2019, the Viens report studied and documented the mistreatment of Indigenous people across the province and laid out 142 recommendations to address systemic racism and the harm endured by First Nations and Inuit as a result of provincial laws, policies and practices.
This year, Quebec’s minister responsible for Indigenous Affairs, Ian Lafrenière, acknowledged there was still a lot of work to be done in that regard but said the province had made some progress on 68 of the report’s recommendations.
Étienne says she plans to research and write special bills to be presented at Quebec’s National Assembly as part of a push to assert self-determination and see the rights of Indigenous women recognized in Quebec legislation.
Political and professional experience
Étienne was on her local band council for 15 years and ran for Canada’s Liberal party in the Lac-Saint-Jean riding in the last federal election.
She was recently named president of the United Nations voluntary fund for Indigenous peoples and in 2012 and 2013 she was an advisor for Quebec’s Ministry of Indigenous Affairs.
She currently works as the head of the Société de Communication Atikamekw Montagnais — a communications company known as SOCAM that broadcasts community radio programs to three Atikakemw and 11 Innu communities across Quebec.
While she’s still working to determine what impact her new mandate at QNW will have on her communications job and her role at the UN, she says she feels her contacts and career experience are strong assets.
“I think I can bring my expertise and knowledge of that reality [to the job],” she said. “I’ve already made connections with different organizations … even with different Indigenous communities across Quebec. That network is already established.”
She says her first step will be getting up to speed on all of the ongoing files and projects and taking stock of where the organization is at and what it wants to move on next, acknowledging the contributions of the women who came before her.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be continued and followed up on,” she said. “And I think what I bring to complement that is new work that focuses on pushing forward new legislation for Indigenous women’s rights.”