(The meeting at Grand Pre, Nova Scotia from left, Chief Terry Paul, Jody Wilson Raybould, MP Andy Filmore, AFN Reg’l Chief Morley Googoo, and AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. Photo: Trina Roache/APTN)
APTN National News
Self-governance was the main focus at the second annual summit between Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq chiefs and Members of Parliament.
Nova Scotia’s 13 chiefs met with MPs from the province as well as Canada’s Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who came to talk about the government’s new approach to Indigenous relations.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to speak about the ten principles that our government issued around a recognition of a rights-based approach,” said Wilson Raynould. “And this is a prime example of where we can manifest a new nation to nation relationship.”
In mid-July, the minister released the ten principles which Wilson-Raybould said represent an important shift rooted in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
“It speaks to a substantively different approach to the rights of Indigenous people,” said Wilson-Raybould. “It moves away from an approach of denial that historically has been taken with respect to rights, to an approach that is rooted in the recognition of those rights.”
Pictou Landing Chief Andrea Paul was encouraged by the language coming from Ottawa.
“Today is an exciting day. It’ll be great to listen to Minister Wilson-Raybould and talk about those ten principles,” said Paul.
She recently represented the Mi’kmaq in a series of meetings at the United Nations in Geneva.
Paul said she was struck by the similarities between the colonial experience of Indigenous People around the world and the Mi’kmaq.
“I feel I have a responsibility to carry that forward,” said Paul. “And for people in our communities, I think they really should pay attention to this and hold the government accountable to it.”
The meeting was closed to media and no agenda was available. But some of the Mi’kmaw chiefs said the list is long, from taxation to language.
“We have a lot of issues and concerns that we want addressed and how we can govern ourselves as Mi’kmaw people in Nova Scotia,” said Chief Leroy Denny. “Questions regarding land, our fisheries, our rights.
“There’s so many things we need to discuss.”
This is the second annual summit and Denny said the face to face meeting with federal politicians is a vast change from even a few years ago.
“Instead of writing letters and phone calls, we’re actually around the table. We’re talking. Discussing issues, and that’s never happened before,” said Denny. “To me, it’s very unprecedented. And I’m excited for it.”
The Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia are already working toward a model of self-governance.
They have jurisdiction over education on reserve.
Mi’kmaw leaders welcome the message from Ottawa, which is to get ready for life without the Indian Act.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde attended the summit.
He said not all 634 bands across the country share the same capacity and financial resources to reach self-governance at the same time.
He said the Indian Act doesn’t provide rights. It’s legislation over 140 years old that needs to go.
“So the biggest challenge for us is developing the mindset the hope and inspiration that we can do it,” said Bellegarde.
“And develop our own customs and traditions and laws and move beyond the Indian Act and occupy that space, and occupy that jurisdiction.”
AFN regional chief Morley Googoo, who helped organize the summit, said the Mi’kmaq are in a unique position in Nova Scotia. One tribe, one nation.
“There are 13 Mi’kmaw chiefs here. We all speak one language and it’s a very manageable group to create a champion and model for the rest of the country to be able to look at,” said Googoo.
He said the success of the Mi’kmaq and self-governance is a “win-win” for everyone, and getting federal politicians on board with Mi’kmaq issues is important
“The whole purpose of the summit is to have our MPs recognize our self-determination to self-government, and how can they help us,” said Googoo.
“The Mi’kmaq have expressed substantive solutions to deconstruct their colonial reality,” she said. “As a federal government, it’s our responsibility to ensure that we’re there in partnership to embrace their solutions and move forward with a nation to nation relationship.”
A timeline for self-governance is elusive, there are plans for another summit next year.
And some of the chiefs hope the prime minister himself attends.
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