Mi'kmaw leaders on P.E.I. chart course for self-governance

Mi'kmaw leaders on P.E.I. say self-governance would include having a 'seat at the table' with other levels of government.  (CBC/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Mi'kmaw leaders on P.E.I. say self-governance would include having a 'seat at the table' with other levels of government. (CBC/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Leaders of the Mi'kmaq First Nations on P.E.I. gathered this weekend in Charlottetown to help determine a vision for current and future generations that would ultimately lead to a broader form of self-governance.

But first, said Chief Darlene Bernard, there needs to be a better understanding of treaty rights not just among the general population, but the Mi'kmaw community, as well.

"That's our priority right now, is to educate everybody so that we're all on the same page and then when we talk about those bigger issues around self-determination, self-government, then everybody is kind of at the same level of understanding of what we're talking about."

Among the speakers were Sen. Brian Francis, the former chief of Abegweit First Nation, who spoke about fishing rights in the Atlantic. P.E.I.'s poet laureate, Julie Pellissier-Lush, spoke about genealogy and rediscovering lineage that was lost during the Sixties Scoop and residential schools.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

Bernard said it's important the Mi'kmaq define who has Mi'kmaw status, and it shouldn't matter whether they live on a reserve or off.

Nationhood 'rebuilding'

It's all part of the foundational work to take back control of decisions that affect the livelihood of First Nations, Bernard said.

"This is work that's being done all across the country. So we're all at different, varying stages of this nationhood building — rebuilding, I should say, because we always had governance models and things like that that were torn apart during colonization."

The delegates discussed what self-governance might look like in 10 or 20 years. Bernard said it could include making their own laws to protect their traditions and culture, having more input in funding agreements, and having a "seat at the table" with other levels of government.

"In 10 years time, we hope that we would have erased the colonial lines, those imaginary lines that divide us," she said.

"So there's a lot of work ahead. I feel optimistic. I feel proud. I feel extremely delighted that our people came out and had these conversations."