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JOHN JOE SARK: Chiefs make decisions behind closed doors

Entrance sign to Port-la-Joye / Fort Amherst national historic site in Rocky Point.
(File Photo)
Entrance sign to Port-la-Joye / Fort Amherst national historic site in Rocky Point.(File Photo) - The Guardian

Many important issues have never been brought before the Mi’kmaq people of Epekwitk

I wish to respond to a recent letter in the Guardian, which was sent by the two Prince Edward Island Mi’kmaq chiefs, refusing to support the renaming of the Parks Canada National Historic Site at Rocky Point to disassociate it from the name of Gen. Jeffery Amherst.

In particular, I am concerned about the identification of the role of the chiefs of these two bands created under the Federal Indian Act. In their opening remarks the chiefs stated: “Constant back and forth was becoming increasingly divisive and ineffective.” Do they mean that they have sole and dictatorial power over all the Mi’kmaq People of Epekwitk (P.E.I.)?

It’s sad that the issue of removing Amherst’s name from this national park, like many other important issues that affect the Mi’kmaq People today and for future generations, have never been brought before the Mi’kmaq people of Epekwitk at a duly called meeting to discuss these important topics - so all of the Mi’kmaq People would have had the opportunity to thoroughly discuss the issue and come to a consensus on what to instruct the chiefs to do regarding this sensitive issue with Parks Canada.

It is too bad that these important discussions and decisions are made behind closed doors, with federal and provincial governments and agencies.

Parks Canada has confirmed that they will not remove Amherst’s name from the National Historic Site at Rocky Point because, “the designation is based, in part, on the fact that the location served as a seat of government for the British from 1758 to 1768.”

Contrary to what was asserted in their letter, after 1758 the Island was not a separate colony. It was part of Nova Scotia, administered from Halifax. There was no separate colony of the Island of Saint John, as Prince Edward Island was called then. It was only in 1769. It was set up with Walter Patterson as its first governor and he presided over sessions of a makeshift assembly in private homes and taverns in Charlottetown, for the small population left on the Island after the expulsion of most of the Acadian population.

Can Parks Canada and the chiefs list all the positive things that Gen. Amherst has done for the Mi’kmaq People or for the Indigenous Peoples of North America? They can’t - because none exist.

It was under Gen. Amherst’s written orders to Roger’s Rangers that 300 Indigenous women and children were murdered and scalped in the Arenac/St. François massacre. "if they, (the Acadians/Mi’kmaq warriors protecting them) don't lay down their arms, destroy them." That is, in Amherst's terminology … ‘kill them.’

Despite this underlying history, the chiefs of these two bands state that “Parks Canada’s decision not to remove the name of Gen. Amherst from the National Historic Site at Rocky Point” was defended. It wasn’t about “defending” a decision. It was about “finding a path forward that promotes reconciliation over revenge.”

If the chiefs didn’t defend the Parks Canada decision, then what do they mean? If they’re not defending Parks Canada’s decision, then they should be demanding that Amherst’s name be removed immediately. Reconciliation has nothing to do with revenge. Reconciliation includes clear-headed consideration of past wrongs and making the changes necessary to address and change past patterns of disrespect.

In reference to the comment regarding the proposed office and Friendship Centre, the chiefs have stated: “Finally, the building will serve as an urban Indigenous centre to enhance much-needed programs and services for the urban Indigenous community.”

This is nonsense. The chiefs don’t seem to realize – or at least are not telling the public - is that a separate body, the Native Council of P.E.I., has been in existence since the 1970’s and has been representing the vast majority of the Mi’kmaq People of Epekwitk since that date.

This representative governing organization for Indigenous People, who don’t live on any of the apartheid reservations, has been serving and advocating for the urban Indigenous population for decades.

- John Joe Sark is Keptin, Mi’kmaq Grand Council

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