Mi'kmaq Grand Council flag symbol of change, acceptance for Indigenous Nova Scotians

Nova Scotia universities make flying the Mi'kmaq Grand Council flag a permanent part of their campuses.

Seeing the flag raised in the province unlikely 5 or 10 years ago, says Atlantic Policy Congress member

A Mi'kmaq Grand Council flag flies at Dalhousie University in Halifax. (Robert Short/CBC)

Dalhousie University professor Patricia Doyle-Bedwell remembers when she first saw the Mi'kmaq Grand Council flag flying on campus.

Five or six years ago, Doyle-Bedwell said the flag was hoisted in the quad for about half an hour. 

"We wanted it for the month of October. But even for that half hour, it was breathtaking and emotional," said the Mi'kmaq lawyer and educator.

"It's a symbol for me of the change, of the acceptance of our presence and the acknowledgement of our history and the need to incorporate us into education. Because we need to see ourselves in the textbooks, in the classes, as teachers as students, our history, our elders and that to me is what the flag symbolizes."

Dalhousie University professor Patricia Doyle-Bedwell says the presence of Mi'kmaq flags are a sign of positive change. (YouTube)

More than marking a month

In recent years, the flag has been flown by some organizations and educational facilities during October to mark Mi'kmaq History Month.

Now universities across Nova Scotia have gone a step further. All have announced in recent months that they are making the flag a permanent part of their campuses.

That would have been unheard of five or 10 years ago, said John Paul, executive director of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat.

"The flag was never given that significance across Nova Scotia, across Atlantic Canada."

Reflects change

He believes the flag is an important education aid, as well as a cultural symbol.

"I always think about little kids asking that question, what is that flag there for?" said Paul. 

"They recognize Canada and the provincial flag but when they see that flag, they'll say what's that doing there and that's what you want. You want people to be educated, informed that we were the first people here."

John Paul, executive director of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat, would like to see the Mi'kmaq Grand Council flag flown in Nova Scotia municipalities. (CBC)

For Doyle-Bedwell, the Mi'kmaq Grand Council flag also represents a public acknowledgement of Indigenous presence, both past, present and into the future.

It's also personal, reflecting the changes that have been made at Dalhousie over the past 30 or so years that she has been there.

"When I came here as a student there were hardly any books [about Indigenous peoples] in the library. There were just five of us in the SUB [Student Union Building]. Now we have a core group of Indigenous faculty. We have over 300 Indigenous students here. We're flying our flag."

Indigenous input

In addition, the university has agreed to officially acknowledge that it sits on traditional Mi'kmaq territory, adding the reference to academic documents.

Dalhousie also is working on an Indigenous strategy that includes degrees in Indigenous studies at undergraduate and graduate levels and Indigenous input into various faculties, Doyle-Bedwell said. 

"The Indigenous strategy is a plan and it's a significant plan. Dalhousie medical school has also hired an Indigenous advisor and recruitment person. We have a new Indigenous student advisor. That's all within the last five years." 

'Every municipality, every school'

Paul wishes the flag was being raised in other areas as well.

"Every municipality, every school, wherever they fly a flag basically. It recognizes that we were here, a very important recognition. Where you're from — most people have a flag to say where you are from."

Right now he said, it is "really up to the goodwill of the leaders — 'thought leaders' in particular — of universities and cities and towns," said Paul.

"I am glad they are seeing this as the right thing to do. And I'm very happy when I see it … it just gives me a confidence about who we are."