P.E.I. to have its own regional chief within Assembly of First Nations
'This is something we're very proud of and it took many, many years to get here'
For the first time, P.E.I. will have its own regional chief to represent the province within the Assembly of First Nations.
The move comes two years after a resolution was put forward by Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould, who sits on the assembly's committee for charter renewal, and Lennox Island First Nation Chief Darlene Bernard.
A news release from Lennox Island said the resolution was brought back to the floor of the assembly's virtual annual general meeting this week. A majority of the chiefs voted to amend the assembly's charter to include a regional chief for P.E.I.
Gould said the decision is important in ensuring the province's representation on a national level.
"This is something we're very proud of and it took many, many years to get here," said Gould in an interview on Wednesday, noting he first brought forward the idea 16 years ago and has continuously experienced pushback.
"This is a long time coming. I think for a provincial and territorial First Nations leadership to be recognized and have the same seat as every other province in the country, I'm just ecstatic."
'Voices are silenced'
The Assembly of First Nations is a national advocacy organization representing First Nation citizens in Canada.
Currently, P.E.I. is represented by the regional chief who represents New Brunswick. As well, Newfoundland and Labrador is represented by the regional chief responsible for Nova Scotia.
"The Atlantic region receives a subpar representation at that table, which claims to represent all First Nations in Canada," said Gould, noting there are thousands of Mi'kmaw people on the Island.
"The geopolitical environment right now is exacerbated by the silent voices of our residential school survivors and their decedents. It's unbelievable in this day and age, First Nations people's voices are silenced.... That was the presentation I put to the chiefs. "
P.E.I. 'just as important'
He also noted that P.E.I. First Nations bring a "high political asset" to the assembly, as Abegweit First Nation and Lennox Island First Nation travel with P.E.I.'s premier to the first ministers' conference, a meeting of the provincial and territorial premiers and the prime minister.
"We are just as important as a small province and just as important ... as some of the other larger provinces. It shouldn't be based on per capita or the size when you're talking about a treaty right," said Gould, noting people on the Island have a particular stake in the fishing industry.
In the news release, Bernard called the move "a great win for P.E.I. First Nations."
"The [assembly] has become an increasingly important voice on Indigenous matters in Canada. It made no sense for P.E.I. to be excluded from that very important executive council," said Bernard.
"This has been a long time coming and I could not be more pleased."
The particulars on how and when the new role will come into effect are still being worked out, said Gould.