P.E.I. is moving forward with a new initiative to educate Islanders about the Peace and Friendship Treaties.
The agreements between the British and the Mi'kmaq were signed in the 1700s as a framework for co-existence. The treaties highlighted hunting and fishing rights — as well as obligations for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments.
"I think that people need to understand the treaties and that we're all treaty people," said Chief Darlene Bernard of Lennox Island First Nation. "This is about everybody. Your ancestors signed that treaty as well as mine."
P.E.I.'s second annual Treaty Day was celebrated Thursday with a flag raising and a government announcement on the new treaty education initiative — made during a ceremony at the provincial government courtyard by Rochford Street.
Education as path forward
The event opened with a prayer by Mi'kmaq elder Jimmy Bernard and closed with the sounds of the Redstone drumming group ringing out.
It was also an opportunity to hear from the chiefs representing P.E.I.'s two First Nations about the importance of those historic treaties — and how they are applied today.
"It feels good that in the sense that we're moving forward in a positive manner," said Chief Junior Gould of Abegweit First Nation.
"Seeing the Mi'kmaq flag flying here as well as in Nova Scotia and other areas — there is a time and place for everything and this is a good time and a good place for the Mi'kmaq flag to be flying."
P.E.I. Premier Dennis King was also on hand to speak about the rapport between the provincial government and the Mi'kmaq leaders.
"I feel that the relationship that we have been building with our First Nations here in Prince Edward Island has been strong," said King.
"When we talked last year about having and recognizing formally Treaty Day, this is kind of what I had in mind. It was just important to recognize our past but also use it as a springboard to where we go in the future."
The newly announced treaty education initiative will be brought forward by the province's Indigenous relations secretariat in partnership with L'nuey — the P.E.I. Mi'kmaq rights initiative.
The premier said it is still in early stages, but the goal is to improve education around the understanding of treaty rights across P.E.I., "to have Islanders have a better understanding of Section 35 [of the Constitution Act] and Mi'kmaq treaty rights here in Prince Edward Island with the ultimate goal, obviously, of making sure that history and understanding is shared through our learning curriculum across Prince Edward Island."
He said the partnership would also "begin steps more broadly to share a Mi'kmaq language in our schools."
The right to fish
Treaty rights have been a topic of discussion in the Maritime provinces in recent weeks as the Sipekne'katik First Nation launched its own Mi'kmaw-regulated, rights-based lobster fishery in St. Mary's Bay, N.S. It's believed to be the first of its kind in Nova Scotia.
In response, hundreds of non-Indigenous commercial fishermen confronted the Indigenous fishermen two weeks ago and removed Mi'kmaw lobster traps.
Both chiefs involved in Thursday's ceremony in Charlottetown have previously said they also intend to launch a livelihood fishery in P.E.I.
Gould said he is open to discussing the issue and educating anyone on any platform or medium to get the word out about Mi'kmaq rights in the region. He also said he is planning to meet with the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association on Friday to discuss the issue of the Indigenous right to a moderate livelihood from the fishery.
"The engagement process is not permission.… We have been supported by the Supreme Court of Canada having a right to do so," Gould said.
"It's an education process. Well, I will bring them up to speed because their government has failed to do so."
Gould said the concern is not with the provincial government or other Island fishermen, but with the federal government for what he calls not dealing in good faith with Indigenous communities in regards to treaty rights and defining a moderate livelihood fishery for P.E.I.'s First Nations.
L'nuey had posted a video in advance of Treaty Day based on the artwork of Mi'kmaq artist Loretta Gould.
Bernard said the video was very well done with beautiful artwork to help make learning about the treaty easy to understand.
"We need to target the next generation on both sides — and we actually have to take out that 'both sides,' erase those colonial lines," said Bernard.
"We have to say to our children in this province, Mi'kmaq and non-Mi'kmaq ... you don't have to fear these treaties."
Here are a few Mi'kmaq words and pronouncers used on P.E.I. as provided by L'nuey:
- Kwe' — Hello — pronounced gway.
- L'nuey — Belonging to or pertaining to the Mi'kmaq people — pronounced ull-noo-ey.
- Epekwitk — Prince Edward Island — pronounced ehb-uh-gwihd.
- Mi'kma'ki — Traditional land of the Mi'kmaq — pronounced m-ig-ma-gee.
- Wela'lin — Thank you — pronounced weh-lah-lin.
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