Skmaqn, a Mi’kmaq word for “the waiting place,” is now part of the official name of the national historic site at Rocky Point. The word’s origins date back to the 1725-1758 era when Mi’kmaq and French leaders met annually there to renew friendly relations. French officials were often delayed arriving from Fortress Louisbourg so the Mi’kmaq of Epekwitk would wait for them at Skmaqn.
Today, the Mi’kmaq are still waiting – for justice and common sense to prevail. The federal decision Friday to add Skmaqn to the existing Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst National Historic Site of Canada is a travesty.
Instead of addressing this injustice and easing First Nations concerns, the name change worsens the situation. It places a traditional Mi’kmaq name right beside Gen. Jeffery Amherst – a British general who is anathema to Aboriginals throughout the region. Federal officials are tone deaf to the history swirling around this site.
But not John Joe Sark, the Keptin for Epekwitk, who has been calling for the removal of Gen. Amherst from the historic site. Aboriginal Peoples consider him a genocidal tyrant who advocated for the eradication of indigenous populations. Mr. Sark’s concerns have failed to change minds in Ottawa and the province has failed to intervene.
Deleting Amherst and adding Shmaqn before Port-la-Joye might have been acceptable. The two peoples were allies and both suffered grievously at the hands of the British. The expulsion of the Acadians and the tragic deaths of hundreds of innocent farmers and fishermen on ships which sank heading back to France or to exile in the southern U.S. was as brutal as the British treatment of the Mi’kmaq people.
If Halifax can remove a statue of the city’s namesake (Edward Cornwallis) in response to aboriginal concerns, what seems to be the problem at Rocky Point? Why is there such reluctance to do the right thing on P.E.I.?
When he was in the province last June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held out hope of a federal willingness to listen to Mr. Sark’s concerns. That hasn't happened. Mr. Trudeau moved quickly to strip the Langevin Block building, which houses the prime minister’s and the privy council offices in Ottawa, of its name. The PM said he was doing this out of respect for indigenous peoples, as Sir Hector-Louis Langevin was a proponent of the infamous residential school system which sought to purge aboriginal children of their language, heritage, history and culture. Yet, the Canadian government has failed Indigenous peoples at Rocky Point.
Yes, we can all learn about the shared experiences of the Mi’kmaq, Acadians, French and British, but we don't need Gen. Amherst’s name on a sign at Rocky Point to learn about our history. We can remember him as part of a dark period of P.E.I.’s past but we certainly don't have to celebrate the general with his name at the national historic site.
What happened last week at Rocky Point was adding insult to injury and perpetuates a subtle form of racism. Why can’t federal and provincial officials realize this?