Nfld. & Labrador

Assembly of First Nations approves new regional chief position for Newfoundland

First Nations in Newfoundland are getting a national representative on the national advocacy organization's executive committee.

Motion sparked debate among chiefs but passed with a majority

Newfoundland will soon have a regional chief on the executive of the Assembly of First Nations. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

First Nations in Newfoundland are getting a national representative on the Assembly of First Nations executive committee.

The motion passed last week at the assembly's special chiefs assembly in Ottawa. The island's Mi'kmaq First Nations previously shared a regional chief with Nova Scotia.

That chief, Paul Prosper, said it's a good move for Newfoundland's growing Mi'kmaq population.

"They have unique views and interests and they deserve [it] and I think it's good for them to have their own regional representative," he said Monday. "There is a distinct representative there that is more aware and in tune with the interests and issues and the history that exists within that particular region. They're able to represent and articulate those interests more fully on behalf of their constituents."

Paul Prosper has served as the regional chief for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. He'll soon shed the latter part of his portfolio, as Newfoundland will gets its own representative. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

The motion, which passed on Tuesday, began with Miawpukek First Nation Chief Mi'sel Joe explaining how the Mi'kmaq in Newfoundland were left out of the terms of agreement signed with Canada when Newfoundland and Labrador became a province in 1949.

"That's why this is so important to us," he told the room full of chiefs. "This moment in time is so important to help us move in the direction we need to go. We don't have treaty rights in Newfoundland. All we have is the help of the Assembly of First Nations and the help of the Atlantic Equality Congress. If we don't have this help, we don't have anything going for us."

Chief Joe stands next to the Miawpukek First Nation emblem.
Chief Mi'sel Joe, the head of Miawpukek First Nation in Conne River, N.L., said the move is important for the 31,000 Mi'kmaq in Newfoundland. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Joe said the Liberal government has been supportive, but "because we don't have treaty rights we have to deal with big companies that are coming into our territory in a way that makes us almost beggars. The only way we can change all that is to have our own vice-chief in Newfoundland that can work with 31,000 Mi'kmaq people."

The Assembly of First Nations now has a regional chief for each province and territory, except Nunavut. Alberta has a vacant seat, and Labrador shares a representative with Quebec.

The motion sparked debate, with some — like Chief Wilfred King of the Gull Bay First Nation in Thunder Bay — questioning why the AFN was picking regional representatives by Canadian map lines.

"We're moving towards self-governance and self-determination and yet we're confining ourselves to these provincial boundaries systems, and again I don't know why we're doing that. I'm not speaking against the resolution, but it sounds neocolonialist," King said.

The motion passed after some debate, with a 60-28 vote. Another 38 chiefs abstained from voting.

Prosper said the process for picking a regional chief has yet to be ironed out, but said it's "largely up to the leadership" in Newfoundland to identify candidates who would be suitable for the role. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Newfoundland Morning