'No reconciliation without truth', P.E.I. MLAs hear
'We signed these treaties together and they are still relevant to this day'
MLAs on the legislative committee for health and social development heard a powerful message Wednesday afternoon: "there can be no reconciliation without truth."
The words were uttered by Chief Darlene Bernard of the Lennox Island First Nation in her opening remarks to the committee, and were repeated by presenters throughout the day as the committee received a briefing on Indigenous reconciliation.
"That goal will require an agreement, that both the Mi'kmaq and Prince Edward Island have arrived at a series of facts, which will guide our future relationship," Bernard said.
"This agreed upon statement of facts is an absolute prerequisite to moving forward."
Bernard said all Islanders need to familiarize themselves with the shared history of the province's Mi'kmaq and colonial past, recognize the treaties and repair what has been broken.
She also extended that to the MLAs in the room, and said reconciliation needs to be a forefront of their leadership in their communities.
"We signed these treaties together and they are still relevant to this day. They are a part of the constitution … you can't just throw them away and say that they don't exist," she said.
'We continue to be invisible'
Bernard was one of several presenters, alongside L'nuey executive director Jenene Wooldridge and Lisa Cooper, Bradley Cooper and Wanda Lyall from the Native Council of P.E.I.
Each outlined their path to reconciliation: what needs to be done to make things right with all Indigenous people living in the province, by facing the truths of the past and the present.
The Lennox Island chief said she wants to see the province advance the initiatives it has committed to, like honouring the treaty rights education initiative the premier committed to last fall.
And while Bernard said she has faith in the premier, and was optimistic there would be movement come winter, the Native Council of P.E.I. did not share that sentiment in their remarks.
"We continue to be invisible by this province, like we don't exist. We are faceless people that are struggling with our children being taken away, and our families struggling with mental health and addictions," said Lisa Cooper, chief and president of the council.
"The province needs to step up to that responsibility and recognize there is a community that is hurting and we struggle to meet the needs."
The Native Council represents over 1,050 off-reserve Indigenous people living on Prince Edward Island — including Mi'kmaq, members of other First Nations, Metis, Inuit and Inuk.
In its presentation, the council outlined how it's a federally-recognized organization which represents Indigenous people, while the provincial government considers it a service organization.
The committee heard that the province funds only about three per cent of the council's programming and its members often feel they are left out of consultation, even if over 80 per cent of Indigenous people on the Island do not live on a reservation.
"That does a great disservice to reconciliation, when a huge portion of P.E.I.'s Indigenous base is not included in any actions to progress reconciliation," said Bradley Cooper, political advisor with the council.
"It is not the role of this government to choose which Indigenous people are deserving of reconciliation. We ask that we must be seated at that table, at all tables, in order to represent those individual members of our organization who are not represented by the First Nations bands."
The Native Council told committee it would like the province to sign Panmure Island — a smaller, 324-hectare island off the eastern shores of P.E.I. — over to the council for economic development purposes.
"I don't understand what the issue is with the province," said Lisa Cooper.
"Help us. There is a place for us here."