Province falls short with Truth and Reconciliation Day motion, say Wolastoqey chiefs

·3 min read
Chief Alan Polchies of Sitansisk (St. Mary's First Nation) criticized the motion removing mention of unceded and unsurrendered land. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC - image credit)
Chief Alan Polchies of Sitansisk (St. Mary's First Nation) criticized the motion removing mention of unceded and unsurrendered land. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC - image credit)

Chiefs of the six Wolastoqey First Nations in New Brunswick are crying foul after they say a motion declaring September 30 a Day for Truth and Reconciliation in the province was "stripped" of the truth.

While the motion does officially mark the day for the province, it stops short of naming it a statutory holiday, like Canada Day or Christmas.

"Not only did the Higgs government not recognize the need for a stat holiday to mark the significance of the day, it also stripped the motion of any mention of the fact that New Brunswickers sit on unceded and unsurrendered Wolastoqey territory," said Chief Allan Polchies of Sitansisk (St. Mary's First Nation.)

Library and Archives Canada
Library and Archives Canada

In a statement through the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick, Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation) Chief Ross Perley said the motion fell short of the spirit of truth and reconciliation.

"The amendments that changed the original motion are a shameful reminder that the Higgs government remains unwilling to acknowledge historical fact," said Perley.

Sanitized motion

On Thursday, Green Party Leader David Coon introduced a motion that would see the day officially recognised in the province.

A national Day for Truth and Reconciliation was one of the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was established to gather testimony and history about Canada's residential school system and those directly and indirectly affected by its legacy.

While the motion was tabled by the opposition, it was Indigenous Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn who made proposed amendments, including removing any reference to unceded and unsurrendered territory.

The motion was also amended to state that while the federal government established a national Day for Truth and Reconciliation to remember the legacy of residential schools in Canada, there were no residential schools in New Brunswick.

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

However, there were several day schools in New Brunswick where abuse of students was documented.

CBC News reached out to Dunn for comment but she declined.

The amendments passed along party lines, with the Progressive Conservatives voting for it and the Liberals and Greens voting against.

While Coon said he wasn't happy with the amendments, after conversations with Indigenous leaders, he felt it was important to vote for the motion.

The amended motion passed unanimously.

Unceded concerns

Premier Blaine Higgs said the reason for the amendments was "straight forward," ongoing legal action between the province and Wolastoqey First Nations in New Brunswick.

The Wolastoqey First Nations are seeking claim title to over half of the province.

Much of the claim is based on the nations' assertion that the land was unceded and unsurrendered.

CBC News
CBC News

Last year the province stopped using the terms in land acknowledgements, switching to "ancestral homelands," because of how they feel it could be used in court to bolster the First Nations case.

The same logic applies to the amendments according to Higgs.

"For us to approve a motion that basically states that we are agreeing with the claim that all land here as claimed is unceded, then what would the point of our defence be in the courts," said Higgs.

Liberal Party Leader Roger Melanson accused the province of trying to "rewrite history."

Ed Hunter/CBC
Ed Hunter/CBC

"I think the government was disrespectful, said Melanson.

"Ultimately we all wanted to have September 30 as the truth and reconciliation day for New Brunswick, and I supported that, but I did not support the amendments of government."

Coon said the way the amendments were done reflects the way the government thinks, which he said is a problem.

"That's why the relationship is so poor,"

"There's no real government to government relationship. It's problematic, there's no question about that."

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