Six First Nations chiefs call for end to New Brunswick commission on systemic racism

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FREDERICTON — The six chiefs of New Brunswick's Wolastoqey Nation are calling on Premier Blaine Higgs to scrap his commission on systemic racism.

In a statement issued Friday morning, the Mi'kmaq chiefs said the premier will be wasting time and money if he allows the commission to continue because it lacks independence.

"Provincial government departments and institutions were built to racially discriminate against the Indigenous people of this province," wrote Chief Ross Perley of the Tobique First Nation.

"There seems to be no will from the Higgs government to acknowledge it or fix it."

The call to scuttle the commission comes amid a dispute over a draft interim report, which was shelved in April when the Higgs government raised concerns that the commissioner had not met with many government departments to learn of work that was underway.

The Mi'kmaq chiefs decided to release the draft report on Monday.

Written by commissioner Manju Varma, the draft report recommends the creation of a Indigenous-led public inquiry into systemic racism in the province.

That's something the chiefs have been demanding for the past two years.

In a statement released Monday, the chiefs said they would no longer work with the commission because the government was interfering with its work.

As for Varma, she issued a statement saying the report released by the chiefs was a preliminary draft. She said she is working on a final report that will be released this fall.

But controversy flared again on Tuesday when a senior policy advisor resigned, saying he was worried that the commission was losing its independence.

Robert Tay-Burroughs posted his resignation letter on social media on Tuesday, saying he has been troubled "by the false pretenses" under which the office was doing its work.

"The limits placed by external forces on what we can and cannot say ... has compromised our already fragile independence," he wrote.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn later said she had no idea what Tay-Burroughs was talking about. She said no one in the government told Varma to shelve her report.

On Friday, Chief Patricia Bernard of the Madawaska First Nation said the commission "has been corrupted by government interference."

"Worse than that, his minister is now offering to spend more money on employees after a key staffer quit. Higgs doesn't know when to stop digging."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2022.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

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