PEI

Mi'kmaq elder to resign from Order of P.E.I. citing lack of support from province

Keptin John Joe Sark, a Mi'kmaq elder, is resigning from the Order of P.E.I., citing a lack of support from the province in his bid to have Parks Canada change the name of the Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site.

'They have to start listening to the Mi'kmaq people,' says Keptin John Joe Sark

Keptin John Joe Sark of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council at a ceremony in September 2016 receiving the Order of P.E.I., flanked by Lieutenant Governor Frank Lewis (left) and Premier Wade MacLauchlan. (P.E.I. Government)

Keptin John Joe Sark, a Mi'kmaq elder, is resigning from the Order of P.E.I., citing a lack of support from the province in his bid to have Parks Canada change the name of  Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site.

Sark returned his Order of P.E.I. pin and medal to the provincial legislature last week.

'I don't know why there's silence'

"They don't seem to have any ears," Sark said of the premier and other MLAs he's asked to support his cause. "I sometimes wonder if they've got a conscience."

Sark has asked Parks Canada to drop the name of General Jeffery Amherst from the Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site, describing the British officer who served in the 1700s as a tyrant and enemy of Indigenous people.

Historians have found evidence Amherst advocated spreading the smallpox virus to Indigenous people using blankets.

"We've been working on it for up to two years," Sark said of the campaign to change the name of the site, saying he asked Premier Wade MacLauchlan to send a letter of support to Parks Canada.

Parks Canada said it will not drop the name Amherst from Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site, but will consider revising the name of the site to include a traditional Mi'kmaq name. (CBC)

He said he also asked politicians from all parties to bring up the issue in the provincial legislature. "But there was complete silence on this, I don't know why there's silence."

A spokesperson for the province told CBC News "it is the mandate of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada to advise on matters related to nationally significant aspects of Canada's history and that Parks Canada is now considering whether the official name of Fort Amherst could include a Mi'kmaq name."

Last month Parks Canada announced it would not drop the name Amherst from the site, but would consider revising the name of the site to include a traditional Mi'kmaq name.

'Mixed feelings' about award

Sark, who is a lifetime member of the regional Mi'kmaq Grand Council, also mentioned legal and land disputes between the province and the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. as factors in his decision.

He said he already felt "mixed feelings" at the ceremony where he was invested into the Order of P.E.I. last September.

Sark says he already had 'mixed feelings' about being made a member of the Order of P.E.I. (Randy McAndrew/CBC News)

Sark described the current relationship between the province and the Mi'kmaq as "very deceiving, because you know no matter what happens, they could spend millions of dollars to take you to court to fight it, but it may only take a few dollars to rectify the situation somehow."

"They're going to have to start listening to the Mi'kmaq people," he said.

Still a member, says government

When asked to comment on the issue on Friday, Premier Wade MacLauchlan referred CBC News to the secretary of the Order of P.E.I., JoAnne Holden.

Holden confirmed the Advisory Council of the Order of P.E.I. had received the insignia with which Sark had been presented at his investiture ceremony in the fall of 2016.

However, Holden said Sark is still considered a member of the order because he had not provided written notice of his intention to resign.

Sark said Monday he would draw up that letter.

According to government, no one has ever before resigned from the Order of P.E.I.

In his write-up which remained on the Order of P.E.I. website Monday, Sark is described as "a spiritual leader for the Mi'Kmaq people [who] has built a lasting bridge of understanding between cultures."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca

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