Ovide Mercredi suggests new treaty for Atlantic region First Nations at Halifax self-government summit
Co-chair of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs says new treaty not an option they're considering
Ovide Mercredi, a former National Chief of the Assembly of the First Nations (AFN), says a new treaty could be the best way for Atlantic region First Nations to achieve self-determination.
He was the first of numerous Indigenous presenters from the across the country to present their ideas at the inaugural First Nations Self Government Summit in Halifax.
"You have to think outside of the policies of the government of Canada," Mercredi told hundreds of delegates in the audience.
"What better way to think than the way in which your ancestors thought?"
Mercredi said he believes the Mi'kmaq, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) and Peskotomuhkati should first focus on uniting to represent themselves by their territory, not by individual band councils, and then reconsider what their past relationship with Canada has done to benefit their people.
"The past 150 years of reserves and band governments didn't produce the sovereignty [or] wealth that they require to look after their own needs as a people," Mercredi said in an interview.
"So they need a new treaty."
Mercredi said a fresh treaty will allow the three nations to implement provisions that outline clearly Canada's obligations to their people. He said the history of colonialism has already made First Nations reliant on Canadian funding and infrastructure; a new treaty would affirm, in writing, that communities get what they need to continue bettering themselves.
In an interview, Mercredi said he thinks that First Nations self-determination completely outside of Canadian policy is "not a possible dream," but that forging nation-to-nation relationships is something First Nations have always had the will to do.
"We have to reach back to the history and move forward," he said.
"That means a new treaty that deals with more land for the people, sharing the wealth as was originally intended and having jurisdiction over children, families and law making."
'Not what we're looking at'
Sidney Peters, Chief of Glooscap First Nation and co-chair of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs, said he supported Mercredi's notion of national unity but that a new treaty isn't an option they're considering.
"That might work in other areas but right now that's not what we're looking at," said Peters.
Peters said the Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia have been making strides toward self-determination through a rights-based strategy called the Made in Nova Scotia Process. The process, which includes 11 of the 13 Mi'kmaw communities in Nova Scotia, allows negotiations outside of Canada's Comprehensive Claims or Inherent Self-Government policies.
Peters said the Assembly of Chiefs and unique approaches to consultation and self-determination has helped to build unity among chiefs in Nova Scotia, which he believes inspires pride in their communities.
"All 13 of us sit together," he said. "We're looking at the implementation of our rights here in Nova Scotia ... and we're starting to see positive strides toward that."
Peters said finding a unified direction to self-government with the rest of the Mi'kmaq communities in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland will take more time, since they all deal with different provincial processes, but that he thinks the ultimate goal is prosperity for the entire Mi'kmaw nation.
No one model that works everywhere
Roger Augustine, AFN Regional Chief for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, said he'll consider all ideas offered on self determination, and that Mercredi's ideas were well-received.
"He nailed it, right on," Augustine said. "Today's presentations are exactly what we're looking for. The idea is to figure out what needs to be done first and we're already getting there."
Augustine said that while the intention of the summit is unification and self determination, there's no one idea that will work for everyone. He said that may actually benefit the three nations since it forces leadership to consider all options and look inward.
"Right now, we don't have a serious interpretation of how it's going to look," he said.
"There's no model to look at, but in this case that's good. You look at the grassroots interpretations, you go to reserve schools to hear from [children]. The spirit of the self government or of self determination has to come from the people themselves."
The AFN said the parties hosting the summit are requesting feedback from delegates and will be producing a report on their findings. Sessions continue until Thursday.