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MI'KMAQ CHIEFS: Reconciliation over revenge

Premier Wade MacLauchlan, centre, was joined by Chief Brian Francis of the Abegweit First Nation and Chief Matilda Ramjattan of Lennox Island First Nation on August 30, 2017, in signing a development agreement between the government of P.E.I. and the Prince Edward Island Mikmaq.

(The Guardian File Photo)
Premier Wade MacLauchlan, centre, was joined by Chief Brian Francis of the Abegweit First Nation and Chief Matilda Ramjattan of Lennox Island First Nation on August 30, 2017, in signing a development agreement between the government of P.E.I. and the Prince Edward Island Mikmaq. (The Guardian File Photo)

Constant back and forth was becoming increasingly divisive and ineffectual

BY CHIEF MATILDA RAMJATTAN

AND CHIEF BRIAN FRANCIS

GUEST OPINION

After reading Keptin John Joe Sark’s letter to the editor (“Terrible insult to Mi’kmaq,” The Guardian, Oct. 5), we felt it necessary to address a few of the matters he raised.

Regarding the proposed Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst name issue, Mr. Sark incorrectly stated that “Parks Canada’s decision not to remove the name of General Amherst from the National Historic Site at Rocky Point” was defended. It was not about “defending” a decision, it was about finding a path forward that promotes reconciliation over revenge.

We do understand Mr. Sark’s sentiment and the outrage of some of our Mi’kmaq community members on the naming issue; they are justified, but the constant back and forth was becoming increasingly divisive and ineffectual. Contrary to Mr. Sark’s assertion, there is no known historical evidence indicating that Amherst played any active role respecting cultural genocide of the Mi’kmaq, including the Mi’kmaq of Prince Edward Island.

However, there seems to be clear historical evidence of General Amherst’s shameful treatment of the Indigenous Peoples in other parts of North America. The attempted annihilation of a segment of the population because of a perceived cultural superiority is never excusable – regardless of the time period. The fact that there is no evidence of atrocities against the Mi’kmaq does not exonerate Amherst for his overall attitude and actions.

We have been guided by the wisdom of Sen. Murray Sinclair on this issue, a man whose reputation in the Indigenous community is beyond reproach. Sen. Sinclair, the former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, has stated that tearing down tributes to historical figures is counter-productive. "It is not about taking names off buildings, it is about whether we can find a way to put Indigenous names on buildings."

We also advocate that there be plaques associated with historical figures, which allow for the full truth-based history to be known. Such plaques would educate the public as to the shameful deeds of colonial figures, and thereby serve as a permanent reminder of the unconscionable treatment that the Indigenous Peoples had to endure, including by General Amherst.

The Mi’kmaq Leadership has consulted with many of our community members on this matter. We have listened, and the prevailing view is to move toward reconciliation and creating a balance in the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples.

We continue to hold that, contrary to the Doctrine of Discovery, the Mi’kmaq have been here for 12,000 years, and that is worthy of celebration and commemoration. The additional Mi'kmaq name for the area at Rocky Point, once decided upon through consultation with Parks Canada and the Mi’kmaq People, will reflect the millennia of Mi'kmaq history in that area.

With respect to the proposed new building on the Charlottetown waterfront, the signing of the Accommodation Agreement by the Mi’kmaq and provincial governments in August was an historic day for all the Mi'kmaq of P.E.I. It is a testament as to what can be accomplished by the assertion of constitutionally protected rights and by working in co-operation and partnership with the other orders of government.

The funding set out in the agreement will provide for First Nation land ownership and the construction of a multi-purpose building on the historic Charlottetown waterfront. The building will generate stable, long-term income for both First Nation governments, through the leasing of office space to the Mi'kmaq Confederacy and other tenants.

This revenue will be used to support sustainable housing and to help fund our chronically underfunded social programs. The location of the building, close by both cruise ship passengers and other tourist areas, also creates a unique opportunity for the selling of Mi'kmaq crafts and will provide a tremendous opportunity for our Mi’kmaq artisans to share our culture.

Finally, the building will serve as an urban Indigenous centre to enhance much-needed programs and services for the urban Indigenous community.

We hope that Mr. Sark will recognize that we are all working towards the same goals – improving outcomes, preservation of culture and reconciliation. His personal views and unfair attacks on good faith efforts by the Mi’kmaq governments serve only to diminish us all.

- Chief Matilda Ramjattan, Lennox Island First Nation, Co-Chair, MCPEI Board; Chief Brian Francis, Abegweit First Nation Co-Chair, MCPEI Board

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