New Brunswick

Wolastoqey chiefs will not participate in systemic-racism inquiry

Six Wolastoqey chiefs of New Brunswick say they will not participate in the commission on systemic racism because it does not address systemic racism against Indigenous communities specifically.

Chiefs say commission announced this year is no replacement for Indigenous-focused inquiry

Neqotkuk First Nation Chief Ross Perley says the systemic racism commission will not bring First Nations closer to justice because it's not Indigenous-led. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Six Wolastoqey chiefs of New Brunswick say they will not participate in the provincial commission on systemic racism because it does not address racism against Indigenous peoples specifically.

For more than a year, after two Indigenous people were killed at the hands of police within one week, the chiefs have been calling for an independent inquiry into systemic racism against Indigenous people in the justice system.

Premier Blaine Higgs refused, saying there are many recommendations already made to address this issue and they just need to be implemented.

This year, the province announced the appointment of Manju Varma as an independent commissioner who is expected to report next year on systemic racism against Indigenous people, immigrants and people of colour in the province.

In a news release, the chiefs say they "stand firm" that a specific inquiry focusing on racism against Indigenous people needs to be held. They say the commission led by Varma is not a replacement for an Indigenous-focused inquiry.

"We have declined to participate in the Higgs government's ill-equipped and ineffective alternative to an inquiry into systemic racism against Indigenous people in New Brunswick," the news release says. "Participating would make us complicit in this government's efforts to sweep this complex, essential issue under the rug."

When reached by phone, Varma said she has sent a letter to each First Nation chief in New Brunswick in the course of her research, but she's not ready to comment on this development as she had not had the chance to read their response.

Premier Blaine Higgs said this stance is "disappointing."

"I feel there's a very genuine exercise unfolding here," he said in a scrum Wednesday afternoon. "I don't think we should look for excuses why it won't work. I think we we should look for opportunities to test it."

Ross Perley, chief of Neqotkuk First Nation, also known as Tobique, said he's not confident this commission will address the issues facing Indigenous people.

"We're going to continue to advocate [for] proposals that are Indigenous-led with the hopes that someday, maybe it isn't the Higgs government, but maybe there's a government that will want to be nation-to-nation partners — want to really address our issues," Perley said.

"We're not going anywhere."

"Governments change, we stay the same," he said. "This is our territory, our unceded, un-surrendered territory. We will continue to be here and we will continue to voice our concerns."

Higgs said addressing systemic racism "isn't about any one group."

"Systemic racism comes in many forms and in many cultures," he said. "It's about any new group coming into our province or people that have lived here for a long time that continue to experience unfair practices that we don't want to continue."

The chiefs say they support addressing systemic racism for "other racialized groups," but their issues are "unique and complex."

They said assuming all the needs of all racialized people are the same is "an example of systemic racism."