PEI

'You can't keep ignoring us': Native Council demanding recognition from P.E.I. government

The Native Council of P.E.I. is taking aim at the provincial government, claiming it's discriminating against hundreds of Mi'kmaq Islanders living off-reserve, by not consulting with the council on decisions that may affect Aboriginal rights.

Chief says province has duty to consult with Native Council

Native Council of P.E.I. Chief Lisa Cooper has sent a letter to the province asserting that the council represents more than 600 off-reserve Mi'kmaq members, and that the province is ignoring its duty to consider their interests. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The Native Council of P.E.I. is taking aim at the provincial government, claiming it's discriminating against hundreds of Mi'kmaq Islanders living off-reserve, by not consulting with the council on decisions that may affect Aboriginal rights. 

Council Chief Lisa Cooper has sent a letter to the province, asserting that the council represents more than 600 off-reserve Mi'kmaq members, and that the province is ignoring its duty to consider their interests. 

"We weren't consulted on anything. We weren't consulted on Mill River, we weren't consulted on E-gaming ...The cable they laid underneath from New Brunswick to P.E.I., the two bands were consulted. But we were never consulted on that," said Cooper. 

"You can't keep ignoring us. We're not invisible. Many non-status Mi'kmaq remain throughout the Island. Their rights cannot be infringed, not by the bands, and not by this government, and I won't allow it."

The signed agreement between the P.E.I. government, the federal government, and both band chiefs names the two First Nations as the only groups required to be involved in consultations. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The P.E.I. government does have an official provincial policy, recognizing its constitutional duty to consult with the Mi'kmaq, when a proposed government decision may "adversely affect a treaty right, or an asserted or proven Aboriginal right, of the Mi'kmaq."

The policy names just two specific groups as the "key groups for consultation" - the band councils of the Lennox Island and Abegweit First Nations. 

The policy also references "other Mi'kmaq organizations," but doesn't go into specifics. 

There's also a signed agreement between the P.E.I. government, the federal government, and both band chiefs, which names the two First Nations as the only groups required to be involved in consultations. 

Abegweit Chief Brian Francis insists the band councils represent the interests of all Mi'kmaq people during those consultations, even those who are non-status, and living off the reserves. 

"There's no variation when it comes to who speaks for all Mi'kmaq people on Aboriginal and treaty rights, and that is the First Nation Mi'kmaq governments of the day," said Francis.  

"The Native Council, they're an advocacy group and they do a great job at that. But they have no governance power, so they have no legitimate role when it comes to consultation discussions with the federal or provincial crown."

Abegweit First Nation Chief Brian Francis says the band councils represent the interests of all Mi'kmaq people, even those who are non-status, and living off the reserves. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Cooper maintains her council is the only group on P.E.I. that effectively represents non-status, Mi'kmaq Islanders living off-reserve.  

She says a 2016 Supreme Court ruling that non-status Indians are in fact still "Indians" under Canada's constitution, points to the right of her members to have their own representation in consultations with the provincial government. 

"The province needs to start moving with the times, to start reading the court rulings," said Cooper.  "[The courts] didn't just say work with the bands, they said work with your Indigenous communities and groups towards reconciliation."

But Francis says Cooper is reading that 2016 Supreme Court ruling incorrectly.

"[The council] is misguided in terms of its interpretation of that decision, because it didn't go so far as to say they have governance powers when it comes to consultation," said Francis. "That can only be done by the Mi'kmaq governments of P.E.I., as represented by the two chiefs and council of the First Nations."

Province responds 

In a letter responding to the Native Council's concerns, P.E.I.'s Chief of executive council Paul Ledwell said his government is "of the view that it upholds the honour of the Crown in consulting with the Mi'kmaq First Nations on matters related to their asserted Aboriginal and treaty rights."

The letter also said the province is willing to continue to meet with the council "to discuss issues of mutual concern and interest."

Cooper said if her council isn't invited to be a part of future consultations with the province, it will likely take legal action against the government. 

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