“There are people who are racist,” said Yannick Dubé, an Atikamekw who looked for a home for six months last year.
“Every time I met a landlord face-to-face, it became more complicated because the first thing they said was, ‘are you native?’” he said.
Joliette is a town with a population of about 20,000 an hour northeast of Montreal.
More and more Atikamekw are leaving the Manawan reserve in Quebec’s Lanaudière region and are moving to larger towns and cities in the hopes of improving their lifestyle. But in Joliette, where the four per cent vacancy rate is above the province’s average, they aren’t always been welcome.
Mother of three Rosalia Petiquey had to sleep outside for several days before finding a home. She accepted an apartment without running water in order to put a roof over her children’s heads.
The rent is $590 and she has to manually flush her toilet by pouring water into the bowl. She also has no stairs leading out the back door of the second-floor apartment.
“It’s really degrading for a person to not be able to find housing for their children, to offer them stability, a home,” she said.
The mayor's explanation
Joliette mayor René Laurin said its part of a stigma attached to native populations.
“They often have a bad reputation in society. Many drink alcohol and others take certain drugs. So it’s the reputation that follows them,” Laurin said.
He added that he’d been to Manawan before, where he saw people demolish their own porches to find wood for heating.
“Because they are accustomed to living in tents or in makeshift shelters they made themselves,” he said.
He acknowledged the Atikamekw aren’t looked upon kindly by many local landlords, but that a “phobia” of the unknown isn’t exclusive to Joliette.
“It’s the same in all areas where foreigners settle,” he said.
In many situations, however, Atikamekw who can’t find lodging in Joliette end up going back to their communities or moving further up the river, to Trois-Rivières.