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OPINION: Islanders not living on unceded land

Contact The Guardian to submit a letter to the Editor.
Contact The Guardian to submit a letter to the Editor. - SaltWire Network

By John Palmer
Guest opinion

As everyone who attends performances at the Confederation Centre of the Arts knows, there is invariably a statement made at the beginning of the show to indicate their gratitude to the Indigenous community for permitting such an event to occur on their unceded lands. 

To cede means to surrender, or to give away, generally reluctantly. 

The art centre appears to be supporting the claim by senior members of the Mi’kmaq community such as elder Keptin John Joe Sark that P.E.I. is on aboriginal lands which were never transferred to non-native islanders.

But it is incorrect to say we are living on unceded lands. The Treaty of Paris, signed in February 1763 includes the following clause: The King of France ”cedes and guaranties to his Britannick Majesty, in full right, Canada, with all its dependencies, as well as the island of Cape Breton and all the other islands and coasts in the Gulph and River of St Lawrence”. 

That treaty followed the culmination of the Seven Years War, which was a major global conflict principally between France and Britain, although it also involved Prussia, Austria, Spain, Russia and Sweden, and took place across many nations. 

It was concluded with the defeat of France by British forces in Quebec on the Plains of Abraham, Montreal and Newfoundland. 

This treaty is extremely important in the history of Canada as it placed North America in British hands and is the foundation of our nation with the British Queen or King as our formal head of state, which of course it is to this day.

Recognition of aboriginal rights was made in King George lll’s famous royal proclamation of October 1763 out of his concern over hostilities in lands west of the Appalachians, but he never applied it to our land. 

Under his rule our island was divided into lots to provide land grants to various members of the British gentry, which occurred in 1767 following Samuel Holland’s famous survey. 

The landowners then had the responsibility of sending immigrants to settle the island, who were expected to pay rents for use of the land. 

Effectively the Island’s lands were privatized by the British government, who made no provision for the Indigenous Mi’kmaq people. 

The fact that the Mi’kmaq fought alongside French troops in their conflicts with British forces may have contributed to British indifference to their situation. 

Also, it is believed that the first governor of P.E.I., Walter Patterson, when he arrived in 1770 was not aware that any indians, as they were called, lived on the island at that time. 

Under the Canadian Constitution the authority of the Crown, functioning through our democratic institutions, is paramount and it is for the government to decide on the appropriateness, or not, of making land settlements with the Indigenous people. 

The federal Office of Native Claims was instituted for that purpose. 

It is surely imprudent for the Confederation Centre of the Arts to take sides in what is today a sensitive and politically charged discussion.

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