National Aboriginal Day celebrations unfold amid pending Mill River litigation

The Mi'kmaq of Prince Edward Island and Premier Wade MacLauchlan celebrated National Aboriginal Day Wednesday on Lennox Island amid a pending legal battle over the sale of the Mill River resort.
Don MacKenzie, the Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I.'s executive director, says litigation over the sale of the Mill River resort is a way to hold the province accountable for its treatment of the Mi'kmaq people. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The Mi'kmaq of Prince Edward Island and Premier Wade MacLauchlan sat side-by-side on Wednesday to celebrate National Aboriginal Day on Lennox Island.
 
But there was an undercurrent of tension running through the harmonious celebration, thanks to the pending legal battle between the Mi'kmaq Confederacy and the P.E.I. government over the sale of the Mill River Resort.

'Not ideal'

"Well, it's not ideal," said Don MacKenzie, the Mi'kmaq Confederacy's executive director.

"But, the simple fact is we have so many different things being undertaken with both the federal and provincial governments that those other things must continue."
 
MacKenzie added that the litigation is a "way to make sure that the provincial government is held accountable for their treatment of the Mi'kmaq people."

The Lennox Island and Abegweit First Nations filed a motion in the P.E.I. Supreme Court on May 30 for a court injunction to prevent further sale or transfer of the land. Earlier this year, the P.E.I. government sold the resort, which includes a golf course, fun park and campground to Island-born businessman Don McDougall for $500,000.

The First Nations communities requested a judicial review in February. They say they weren't properly consulted on the sale of Crown land.

"We are proceeding full speed ahead with the litigation as a way of protecting the Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Mi'kmaq people. It's unfortunate that that was necessary, but it was and the Mi'kmaq stepped up to do the right thing for their community members," said MacKenzie.
 
MacLauchlan said the province is in discussions with the Mi'kmaq people, but he wouldn't specify if those discussions involve Mill River.
 
"We're in discussions about the most prosperous path forward for the province, and to do that in partnership and reconciliation with the First Nations, with the Mi'kmaq people."

With files from Laura Meader