PEI

'Timely and appropriate' to include Mi'kmaq in P.E.I. land use decisions, says chief

The chief of the Lennox Island First Nation says she is "extremely delighted" to see a recommendation about the inclusion of the Mi’kmaq in policy decisions in P.E.I.’s latest report on land use.

First Nations voices would advocate for concepts like ‘netukulimk’ — a way to co-exist with the land

L'nuey, which represents the Epekwitk Assembly of Councils, was one of the groups invited to present before the Land Matters Advisory Committee as it prepared its report. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The chief of Lennox Island First Nation says she is "extremely delighted" to see a recommendation about the inclusion of the Mi'kmaq in policy decisions in P.E.I.'s latest report on land use.

The recently released report by the Land Matters Advisory Committee contained 13 recommendations on how to improve land use planning and legislation in the province. One of those recommendations is specifically about including the Mi'kmaq in those decisions.

"Based on Mi'kmaq constitutionally-protected rights and their deep interest in land sustainability, it is recommended that the Mi'kmaq be offered a substantive role in the development and shaping of land policies and land management on Prince Edward Island," the recommendation reads. 

Lennox Island Chief Darlene Bernard said she is pleased the report has included the Mi'kmaq, who have a unique and important perspective.

"It's completely timely and appropriate and the best thing for the province to do, because we are treaty people, we have underlying rights to land and the sustainability of our lands, so our voice needs to be heard in this forum," Bernard said on behalf of the Epekwitk Assembly of Councils,  which represent both of P.E.I.'s First Nations. 

"This is the unceded territory of the Mi'kmaq people, right? So we have underlying rights to this land, so I think that we need to be very much involved in the discussions going forward, especially with provincial and federal Crown lands in the province."

'Netukulimk'

The Peace and Friendship Treaties signed in the 1700s served as a framework for nation-to-nation co-existence between the British and the region's Mi'kmaq. 

The treaties outline the rights of the Mi'kmaq and the obligations of the Crown, and have been upheld by Section 35 of the Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court decisions.

'We're asserting our rights and our jurisdictions and trying to do what's best for us,' says Chief Darlene Bernard of Lennox Island First Nation. (Zoom)

Bernard said since the Mi'kmaq see themselves as stewards of the land, they offer a unique perspective on protecting it and resources for future generations. 

This includes applying netukulimk, which embodies the Mi'kmaw cultural practice of using natural resources without jeopardizing the environment.

"That's our word that describes how the First Nations preserve their environment and how we only took what we needed from it, and I think that in some ways we have to get back to that, to those principles on how we deal with Mother Earth and our resources."

Province says it's 'very committed' 

The committee assembled its report after being given a mandate to look at land legislation in the province. It heard from the public through a survey and about 20 interest groups, which were invited to present to the committee, including L'nuey, the P.E.I. Mi'kmaq rights-based initiative.

While the report calls for swift action by the government, the recommendations are new and have not been adopted, but the minister has promised to close current "loopholes" and said that changes to policy would come this fall.

Now I think that the First Nations are standing up and saying, "No, we have a voice."— Lennox Island Chief Darlene Bernard

In a statement to CBC News, officials with the province said staff are finalizing a plan for the implementation of the report's recommendations, but that it is premature to comment on any specific recommendations.

"The province works closely with First Nations on matters of shared interest, which can include land and other resources. There is a duty to consult with the P.E.I. Mi'kmaq when there is a matter that may have an appreciable impact on an asserted Section 35 right," the statement said. 

"The province values the relationship it has fostered with the P.E.I. Mi'kmaq and we remain very committed to working together to further our mutual objectives of well-being and prosperity for all residents."

One of the other major recommendations is that the province develop a long-term land use plan.

"P.E.I. Mi'kmaq have aspirations on our growth and development and how it pertains to land, so our voice needs to be involved in that so that we can be a part of the long-term plan," Bernard said.

The Land Matters Advisory Committee has made other recommendations which include enhancing soil health programs and reviewing land holding limits every five years. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

"The other part of it too is the protection of our right to fish, hunt and gather, like that's going to be a part of the discussion as well.… We do have those underlying treaty rights, so those have to be addressed.

"Our rights have always been there, but we've never been able to truly practise our rights."

'We want to be engaged'

Bernard said the next step for the Epekwitk Assembly of Councils is to do some research, then present the methods and model by which they'd like to be included to the premier. 

"We're asserting our rights and our jurisdictions and trying to do what's best for us.… We're always subject to what the federal government kind of throws on us and all of that, but now I think that the First Nations are standing up and saying, 'No, we have a voice,'" Bernard said.

"We want to be engaged and we want to engage." 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicola MacLeod is a reporter with CBC in P.E.I.

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