Without a voice

Trudeau failing to meet commitment of renewed ‘Nation-to-Nation’ relationship

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian) comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 24, 2016

Native Council P.E.I.

Guest opinion by Jenna Burke- I write this in response to Jeff Brant’s letter “The right decision: Indigenous Nations represented in Vancouver” (March 14). Mr. Brant is of the opinion that the Indigenous Nations in Canada consist only of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the Metis National Council (MNC) and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK). He stated that Prime Minister Trudeau had done the right thing by excluding the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC).

What is problematic with Mr. Brant’s opinion is that his exclusionary approach leaves non-status Indians without a voice and continues to adopt the colonial standards of who is an “Indian” and takes away from our right to self-determine our community members.

On Oct. 8, 2015, during the Supreme Court hearing of the Daniels’s Case, the lawyer for the federal government stated that they have since changed their original stance and affirmed that non-status falls under Section 91 (24) of the Constitution. So by this logic, Prime Minister Trudeau is failing to meet his commitment of a renewed “Nation-to-Nation” relationship.

The reason why organizations such as CAP, NWAC and their affiliates, the Native Council of P.E.I. and the Aboriginal Women’s Association of P.E.I., were created is due to the discriminatory practices that our people have experienced through the Indian Act. It saddens me that it is often our own people who have internalized these fictional categories of Indian status which divide our community to this day.

To exclude NWAC from the First Ministers Meeting shows a great disrespect for our Indigenous women. I am embarrassed that the AFN, ITK and MNC would stand by such a decision.

Perhaps, if we raised the voices of our Indigenous women to their rightful place within our society, we would not have a crisis situation of so many missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

So to those who belong to a Band Council and feel duly represented by them, I think that is wonderful thing. But do not diminish or take away the voice of countless people across Canada who are not a member of an Indian Act Band Council, who are not eligible to be as they are Non-Status, or do not feel represented.

If Band Councils are truly able to represent their citizens, why do off-reserve status Indians not qualify and cannot access critical programs from their band such as the Mi’kmaq Family Pride Program and the National Native Alcohol and Drug Addictions Program?

I was born as a member of the Mi’kmaq Nation. I grew up as a non-status woman. I have lived my entire life off-reserve. I have been a status Indian since 2011 because of the McIvor Decision which found that the Indian Act discriminated against the grandchildren of the women who lost their status prior to 1985.

Mr. Brant was correct that the Lennox Island First Nation and the Abegweit First Nation has every authority to represent the Aboriginal and treaty rights of their Mi’kmaq citizens (band members).

However, this leaves out a large number of non-status Mi’kmaq, non-P.E.I. Mi’kmaq, and those from other Nations who have chosen to make P.E.I. their home.

It is your right to choose which organization you wish to belong to but CAP and its affiliates, such as the Native Council of P.E.I., will continue to represent the interests of off-reserve Indigenous peoples. And they have every right to according to Section 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that Prime Minister Trudeau has committed to implement.

I am calling on all the Indigenous leaders on P.E.I. to work together for our future generations. It’s time that we stop fighting amongst each other and start working together so that we can truly build strong communities and move forward in the spirit of truth and reconciliation.

Jenna Burke is a 4th year UPEI political science student. She is a Mi’kmaq citizen, a director for the Native Council of P.E.I. board, a member of the Aboriginal Women’s Association of P.E.I. and a member of the Lennox Island First Nation.