Strategic Advisor and Custodian of Indigenous Culture
Tall and long-haired, Alexandre Bacon is an Innu leader with all the qualities of a diplomat. He’s known for his remarkable erudition, in-depth knowledge of Indigenous cultures, open-minded attitude and exceptional communication skills. In fact, it’s not unusual to hear him on Radio-Canada broadcasts or in Quebec media.
The son of an Innu father from Mashteuiatsh and a mother from Quebec, he followed the standard academic pathway at schools in Quebec City, up to his college studies at CEGEP de Limoilou. “I was appalled by school and didn’t find it very stimulating,” he says. This contrasts with the influence of his two well-educated parents, both holders of university degrees. However, when he reached CEGEP, he began to show an interest in higher studies, thanks to the support of professors Bruno Dufour and Roger Bacon, to whom he expresses his gratitude today.
The Indigenous lifestyle enriched his summer months and holidays, as he often visited his people’s territory with his uncle Bernard Bacon and aunt Eliane Raphael. His experiences on the nurturing land no doubt helped him to appreciate the organic link between Innu culture, the nomadic hunting and fishing lifestyle, the sense of belonging to the land and the preservation of the traditional language, with its capacity to describe the animals, forest and climate.
The diversity of his learning and professional experiences certainly helped shape his vision and ambitions as a young man, who early in his career produced reports for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). Travelling to Burkina Faso, Guatemala and Mexico to work on collaborative projects evidently gave him a greater awareness of major global issues. His preoccupation with the future of humanity and society led Alexandre to study anthropology (1997), social work (1999), religion (1999) and languages (2000-2001) at Université Laval. His first steady job at the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City allowed him to gain a deeper understanding of Indigenous nations’ histories and struggles for independence, as well as the effects of the Indian Act adopted in 1876.
Indigenous peoples around the world sometimes face very similar issues. Alexandre recounts what he saw in Guatemala: land controlled for the benefit of large mining and agricultural corporations, along with restrictions placed on the freedoms of Indigenous peoples. As a man whose mission is to connect Indigenous nations and cultures with the rest of the world, he believes it’s important to equip Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth with the tools to understand the country in which we live and its history.
“Updating the curriculums of schools at all levels is imperative. In Canada, Indigenous cohabitation with dominant French or English societies took place in the context of colonization, then with the imposition of the Indian Act, which needs to be explained,” he remarks. “The enactment of this law and other policies of the time was also aimed at controlling the future of Indigenous peoples, notably through their settlement on Indian reservations and through educating Indigenous youth with the goal of making their languages and cultures disappear. It was considered necessary to kill the Indian in the child!”
While his own grandmother spoke almost exclusively in the Innu language, Innu-aimun, Alexandre points out a truth recognized by most people in Indigenous communities: “Often, people wanted their children to learn the dominant culture’s language at the expense of an Indigenous language, so that they would have a better chance of getting by in life.”
While Indigenous cultures today enjoy greater public visibility, the use and teaching of Indigenous languages in the community remains highly precarious in many nations, Alexandre notes. The concerns of this Indigenous leader explain his participation in the parliamentary commission hearings on Bill 96, An Act Respecting French, the Official and Common Language of Quebec.
“I wanted to devote my studies to governmental independence, to the implementation of the right to self-determination,” he explains. For this reason, he embarked on a Master of Public Administration at the École Nationale d’Administration Publique (ÉNAP), which he completed in 2009. The father of two children, Olivier et Migwetch, then focused on developing the consulting firm Ashukan, which he founded a dozen years ago. His clients and partners are affiliated with band councils, tribal councils, government ministries, public organizations and various regional organizations, such as the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador. In this role, Alexandre is engaged in supporting leadership and healthy governance in Indigenous organizations, improving decision-making processes and helping organizations to co-operate and develop strategic plans.
Through all his different projects, he seeks to foster collective intelligence. His work is based on several key managerial principles: favouring the expression of diverse visions, enabling everyone to express themselves and ensuring that different viewpoints are heard in a respectful manner. Today, as part of Ashukan’s activities, he devotes more time than ever to giving training sessions aimed at better understanding Indigenous realities and taking action to achieve true reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Alexandre speaks with pride of his relationship with Tommy Raphaël, an elder who experienced the nomadic lifestyle on the Innu’s territory. “Moving back and forth between the city and traditional lands, to go hunting and fishing, is at the root of Innu culture,” he explains. “The gathering of food for family groups provided, and still provides, a framework for social relationships inside and outside communities. The intimate relationship with the land that we cherish—the Nitassinan—is the foundation not only of our food security but also of our identity. It’s therefore important to protect our precious land so that the resources it contains will be available in a sustainable manner.”
“Protecting the legacy of our ancestors leads to healthy dialogue with those who live on the territory with us. We have to find common values. Given that it’s difficult to fulfill the needs of everyone who uses the land, adopting the Impact and Benefit Agreement model for relationships between those developing projects and Indigenous organizations is of value. This does not exclude the crucial role played by the affected First Nations in the project decision-making process. For us, the interconnection between the living world and the land is part of the issues to be considered for any project or occupation of the land,” Alexandre remarks.
As a man known for his wisdom, Alexandre is often invited to take part in discussions addressing the future of social and political relations among First Nations, as well as with governments. As he notes, “In 1979, the Innu and the Atikamekw proposed beginning a negotiation to define the rights of each on their territories, with no concrete result being achieved between the two sides since then! We’re not obliged to sell our land to have the right to live on it.” He adds: “It’s important to delineate the different ways of functioning on the land in a peaceful manner that respects all users.”
Alexandre’s values are grounded in Indigenous heritage, which he knows inside out. During an interview with Radio-Canada in May 2021 with host Kim O’Bomsawim, he shared his passion for storytelling, which he practices at cultural events such as the Atalukan festival in Mashteuiatsh. Drawing on Algonquin cultural traditions, he introduces his listeners to stories and fantastic tales.
In discussing his values, this leader notes the need for action to preserve cultural and linguistic diversity and, of course, for justice to be respected among people and social groups. He stresses the absolute necessity of fighting injustice against marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ community and people suffering from poverty, as well as offering kindness and support to youth and seniors.
In closing, he offers a few messages for young people: “You have to find your strengths, seek out new experiences and allow yourself to make mistakes. Make enlightened choices and love what you do. Feel useful.”