“I went back to school so I could be useful to my people… to set an example for my children and young people in the community,” explains Miguel.
A forward-looking, thoughtful and analytical young man, he is taking on the challenge of completing his law degree at the Université de Sherbrooke so that he can play a role in supporting the future development of his people. Having grown up in the Atikamekw community of Wemotaci in the heart of Québec’s boreal forest, he had to adapt quickly in order to access higher education.
Miguel, who spent his childhood in an impoverished environment but harboured big dreams, closely follows the dialogue between governments and indigenous peoples. The recognition of indigenous rights and the development of indigenous nations are issues that preoccupy him.
The young man was raised by a mother who was a former teaching assistant and a father who used to be a forestry worker. The latter was also a survivor of the indigenous residential school system. Miguel recalls how the love of his grandparents and the support of his school environment helped him during difficult times.
In 2009, he completed his CEGEP studies in water treatment technology. These skills enabled him to work in his community supporting the supply of potable water. In 2014, he began CEGEP studies in humanities at the Institut Kiuna in Odanak.
Running is part of his routine, and he plays intramural hockey at the Université de Sherbrooke on the law school’s team. The athletic abilities of his paternal grandfather, Mathias, likely help to explain Miguel’s aptitude for sports. He was a giant of a man who stood 6 feet 4 inches tall and lived a nomadic life of hunting, fishing and trapping.
Long before meeting the runner Gwitch’in Brad Firth, Miguel would run more than 5 km during his daily workout. Inspired by the indigenous runner from the Northwest Territories, in September 2016 he ran 185 km from Odanak to Wendake, Québec, to support the cause of missing and murdered indigenous women.
Since high school, where he was the student council president in Grade 11 and 12, Miguel has continued to stand out through his leadership and exemplary character. The young activist is well-known in the Atikamekw Nation for founding Mouvement Jeunesse Atikamekw, for which he has served as the moderator at the organization’s annual conventions.
Key issues such as the recognition and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is already recognized by the government of British Columbia, are also a focal point of discussion among young indigenous activists at Québec universities. The declaration addresses issues such as ancestral rights and the inherent right to self-government on ancestral lands — factors that will help determine the future of the country’s indigenous nations.
As a young intern with the Atikamekw Nation’s tribal council, Miguel has naturally taken part in land consultations and negotiations with governments. This also helped him realize the importance of the Nation’s social structure to his friends and family living in the territory. During his vacations, he retreats to his ancestral land, Kararakmiwok, with his spouse and two children.
“Our way of life, which involves a strong family structure and the ability to properly manage the land in terms of both the sustainability of resources and access, is crucial to the future of communities,” states Miguel.
“The quality of relations with the government and the importance of equality must be considered when updating the Indian Act, which was introduced in 1876. Changes are called for in many aspects of governance: the autonomy of nations, the integration of territorial chiefs, the power to grant indigenous status to individuals, as well as financing and partnership mechanisms.”
Numerous indigenous leaders around the country have shared the same hopes and dreams. “Harmonious cohabitation,” says Miguel, “depends on full recognition of indigenous peoples and their cultures. What’s more, it’s necessary to teach young people about the role of indigenous peoples in Canadian history and integrate indigenous content into post-secondary education curriculums. Federal and provincial governments should also open up decision-making processes to indigenous peoples and ensure harmonious management of natural resources in collaboration with indigenous nations. But above all, indigenous and non-indigenous political leaders must implement effective methods for supporting the education of young people and facilitating access to university and other post-secondary studies.”
This young leader noted for his determination and courage has a simple message for youth: “Do your best at school, set ambitious goals for yourself and seize your opportunities.”
He’s also looking forward to taking a little time off to go hunting moose and small game and do some fishing on his ancestors’ land!