Mi'kmaq elder wants apology from MP over comments made in recent meeting

Mi'kmaq elder Keptin John Joe Sark is asking for an apology from P.E.I. MP Wayne Easter over comments made during a meeting last week.

MP Wayne Easter says comments were misinterpreted

Mi'kmaq elder Keptin John Joe Sark met with MP Wayne Easter to present a petition calling for the removal of the Amherst name from the national historic site. (CBC)

Mi'kmaq elder Keptin John Joe Sark is asking for an apology from P.E.I. MP Wayne Easter over comments made during a meeting last week.

Sark and a number of others met with Easter and MP Sean Casey to ask them to present a petition to Parliament to remove the name Amherst from Skmaqn—Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site of Canada.

Last month, a Mi'kmaq name was added to the national historic site, but Sark has been advocating for years for Amherst's name to be removed altogether. Scholars had debated Gen. Jeffery Amherst's actions during his service in the 1700s until evidence was found that he advocated the use of biological warfare through smallpox blankets to kill Indigenous peoples.

I actually am quite insulted that he would write the prime minister and accuse me of racist remarks.— MP Wayne Easter

Sark said Easter made remarks at the meeting that were offensive and "racist," telling the group he can't be blamed for what his ancestors did hundreds of years ago and they can't be judged by today's standards.

"I was really upset. I couldn't believe that these were coming from an MP," said Sark.

Sark has sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, describing the meeting and characterizing Easter's comments as "racist" and requesting an apology from Easter.

'I was shocked'

Easter says he doesn't feel anything he said was out of line.

MP Wayne Easter says he's 'shocked' at the accusation of racism. (CBC)

"I'm actually quite shocked," he said. "His [Sark's] interpretation of what was said at that meeting is obviously far different than mine. I really don't want to get into a situation where every meeting we go to we have to tape record it.

"What was said is, I can't help what happened, really, generations ago and my ancestors or others, and that may not be the exact words, but all that we can do is move forward from here."

Sark hasn't asked Easter for an apology and didn't ask for one on the day of the meeting.

"I was shocked by his statements right at the time. I wanted to go home and process what was said there and that's what I did," said Sark.

When asked why he hasn't asked Easter directly for an apology, he said, "I just don't think it's in his nature to do that, so we'll have his boss ask him."

'Quite insulted'

CBC News spoke to a number of others who went with Sark to present the petition, who also said they were upset with Easter's remarks.

Easter said no one at the meeting asked him to clarify his comments and he hasn't received any calls.

I was really upset. I couldn't believe that these were coming from an MP.— Mi'kmaq elder Keptin John Joe Sark

"Nobody said anything to me so I do find it kind of shocking that the statement is being made," he said.

"I actually am quite insulted that he would write the prime minister and accuse me of racist remarks.

"If they're upset then the proper thing to do would be to say to me, 'Wayne, well we disagree with what you say,' ... but if this is the process that that group wants to follow then that's their choice."

Easter said he knows there were some disagreements during the meeting, but thought it went reasonably well.

"Things have happened generations ago. Should they have happened? Probably not. They are a part of our history and all you can do is move ahead," he said.

"That's where I've always stood on these kind of issues. That's where I still stand. And if they want to ask me about it, then ask me in the meeting, don't start going to the media before you talk to me or sending letters to the prime minister — that's not the way to resolve an issue."

Site's complex history

Easter and Casey say they're happy to present the petition, which has more than 600 signatures, once it is properly formatted for the House of Commons. However, neither MP supports the removal of the Amherst name because the issue has already been reviewed through a formal process and the recommendation to add the name Skmaqn to the site was put forward by the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.

Both Abegweit First Nation Chief Brian Francis and Matilda Ramjattan, chief of Lennox Island First Nation, have said they were pleased the name now better reflects the complex history of the site, including its Indigenous history. Ramjattan has said she didn't want the Amherst name to be removed because she wants the full history to be remembered and she doesn't want history to be doomed to repeat.

The recommendation to add the name Skmaqn to the site was put forward by the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. (CBC)

The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has also said the renaming process involved extensive research and consultations with Indigenous people.

However, Sark says the chiefs don't fully represent every Indigenous person, especially those who live off-reserve.

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