Our interview with Dany takes place amid the excitement of the annual Wemotaci powwow, near two teepees he erected with his friend Sébastien. Tall, athletic and forward-looking, Dany is a confident speaker who tells us about the challenges that have shaped his life.
A gifted student, he spent his childhood and adolescence in the Atikamekw community of Wemotaci surrounded by his brothers and sisters, his carpenter father and his homemaker mother. By his own admission, he was a very shy teenager who struggled with the strict environment of school, dropping out several times.
A community leader who believes in the equality of all citizens, Dany recalls the dark times when indigenous people were victims of bullying and abuse by white people. The passing down of traditional Atikamekw values and culture was interrupted during the era of Catholic residential schools, where the use of indigenous languages and traditional practices was prohibited or repressed.
Dany practices indigenous spirituality and believes in a holistic approach to life and the creations of Kice Manda (the Great Creator). “Despite our past hardships, the people of the Atikamekw Nation still have our own territory, language and culture,” he says.
The oldest child in his family, Dany is now a speaker who places great importance on demonstrating courage and responsibility. “While recognizing the weight of the past and the social problems in our communities, it’s essential that we resist the temptation to identify ourselves as the victims of dominant non-indigenous societies,” he remarks.
He shows young people how to take charge of their own destiny. His advice: “Have a goal and projects, take advantage of the experiences and learning opportunities offered to you, keep learning every day and open your mind to the world’s cultures.”
A born fighter, Dany has been battling for the Atikamekw people’s sovereignty and quality of life since he was a young adult. He’s also an athlete who took up the sport of boxing at the age of 39.
At the end of high school, during a period of high unemployment in the fall of 1998, he went through a tough experience that undoubtedly helped to shape his values and priorities. To avoid going on welfare, he took refuge in a camp on the shores of the Tapiskwan Sipi (St-Maurice River), where he lived on his own for six months, subsisting on the natural resources provided by Mother Earth. He fed on hares and other animals, just like his ancestors.
He then entered the labour force as a rookie patrol officer with the Wemotaci police force—a job that sometimes required him to resuscitate unconscious people. He later pursued college studies in architectural technology at CÉGEP de Saguenay. Returning to the community in 2006, he held positions as a teaching assistant and a manager at Caisse Populaire Desjardins.
His career in politics began in 2007, when he was elected to the Band Council, then re-elected in 2011. He was involved in governmental negotiations on the autonomy of Atikamekw governance and the integrity of the Atikamekw’s territory, which dealt with issues such as traditional activities (hunting and fishing), economic development, funding and royalty payments by forestry companies for felled trees.
As a negotiator, Dany and his fellow Atikamekw leaders of Wemotaci experienced conflict with public organizations and large corporations, but they established a dialogue and won greater respect for the community’s rights. Dany also organized and led peaceful demonstrations demanding respect for the people’s rights on the nation’s territory, the Atikamekw Nehirowisiw. The negotiations conducted during the 1970s with the federal and provincial governments were long and arduous. Their aim was for the Atikamekw people to make full use of the territory, in keeping with their expectations.
Since 2015, there have been two new challenges for Dany. He became manager of Aboriginal relations for CN and, more recently, coordinator of territorial affairs for the Atikamekw Nation Council.
“I believe the future is promising for the Atikamekw people. The power of education, the preservation of the culture and, finally, the application of the principles of traditional or restorative justice will help the Nation to grow,” he concludes in a thoughtful tone.