Nova Scotia

Halifax school board to vote on acknowledging Mi'kmaq lands

If approved, schools will include the following phrase during morning announcements: "We acknowledge that we are in Mi'kma'ki, which is the traditional ancestral territory of the Mi'kmaq people."

If approved, statement would be read during morning announcements starting in October

The proposed statement reads, "We acknowledge that we are in Mi'kma'ki, which is the traditional ancestral territory of the Mi'kmaq people." (Rob Short/CBC)

The Halifax Regional School Board will vote Wednesday night on whether to introduce a statement during morning announcements acknowledging that schools are on Mi'kmaq land.

The proposed statement, "We acknowledge that we are in Mi'kma'ki, which is the traditional ancestral territory of the Mi'kmaq people," would be read in all schools under the jurisdiction of the board.

Jennifer Raven, the board representative for the South Shore-Bedford area, said it's a declaration she was hearing more and more at her own board meetings and other meetings outside the school board.

"It just struck me that if we're doing these things in other boards and we're doing them at our board meetings, why aren't we doing them in the schools with our teaching staff and with our students?" she said.

"This creates a more respectful learning environment, so we can begin a more authentic dialogue both among staff and students."

Timing ideal

If the board votes to accept Raven's motion, the declaration would be introduced in October, which coincides with Mi'kmaq history month.

It's good timing, Raven said, because that's when the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development will introduce treaty education into the curriculum for grades primary to 12. Teachers will get the appropriate professional development for that curriculum, Raven said.

The Mi'kmaq flag flies outside Dalhousie University on April 21, 2017. (Robert Short/CBC)

"I've been learning a lot more about our Mi'kmaq history," she said. "Even though I grew up in this province, we haven't had enough in our curriculum teaching us about that."

'We're really excited'

The school board consulted with the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax to fine-tune the wording of the declaration.

Debbie Eisan, an Ojibway originally from Ontario, sat in on some of those meetings.

"We're really excited when people come and ask us our advice on the way ahead," Eisan said. "We look at education as the key to reconciliation."

Debbie Eisan said she's glad the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre was consulted. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

Eisan said there was some discussion about fine-tuning the phrasing to recognize that not only is Nova Scotia the ancestral land of the Mi'kmaq, but the First Nation still holds title to the land.

In other words, the Mi'kmaq never ceded or surrendered ownership.

Wording considered

It's a legal point that those in the Mi'kmaq community are well aware of, but for others the concept is a bit more vague — something, perhaps, open to interpretation by the courts.

"In my perspective it needs to be clear that the Mi'kmaq people treasure and they honour the environment and they never surrendered any land," Eisan said.

The Mi'kmaq Native Friendship Centre on Gottingen Street was consulted on the proposed statement. (Google)

The treaty signed in 1752 between the Mi'kmaq people and the governor of Nova Scotia [and drafted by Edward Cornwallis] had nothing to do with land ownership. Rather, it was a "peace and friendship agreement."

'An important point to recognize'

Eric Zscheile, lawyer for the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs, said the treaty had nothing to do with land. Rather, it laid the groundwork for how the two groups would live together.

It also served to assure potential immigrants after the American Revolution that there was peace in the Maritimes between the Europeans and the indigenous populations and was therefore an attractive place to live.

"I think it's starting to become a consensus among the non-native community that it's an important point to recognize and remind," Zscheile said. "The First Nations were custodians of the land and they never gave that up when the settlers came."

But does that mean the Mi'kmaq people have full and complete ownership over all Crown land in the Maritimes?

"No, it doesn't go that far," Zscheile said. "But it certainly means that there is an interest in that land that the Crown has to take notice of and certainly from our perspective if you have a title interest in the land then you have an interest in the resources that come from the land."

About the Author

Preston Mulligan has been a reporter in the Maritimes for more than 20 years. Along with his reporting gig, he also hosts CBC Radio's Sunday phone-in show, Maritime Connection.