The Nova Scotia government has signed a memorandum of understanding with Mi’kmaq leaders to launch a long-term initiative to teach the peace and friendship treaties in all schools, the civil service and the broader public.
“The M.O.U. is a historic moment because for too long, the story of the Mi’kmaq has been absent from our provincial education system,” Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny said Thursday during Mi’kmaq Treaty Day ceremonies.
Denny is the chair of Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, an agency that is responsible for developing education curriculum for schools in Mi’kmaq communities.
The memorandum signing was part of the annual Mi’kmaq Treaty Day ceremonies held at the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax on Thursday.
“We have been a small chapter in the history books if we are mentioned at all,” he said.
“Today we start the journey towards ensuring that Mi’kmaq contributions will be highlighted and taught by all teachers, all grades in all schools,” Chief Denny said.
“I want to say to you very proudly that we are all treaty people,” Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said to applause from people in attendance.
“Over 400 years ago, your ancestors welcomed us to this province and this country in peace and friendship,” McNeil said. “ And as we begin that journey together, there were commitments made in the treaties and those treaties need to be understood by all of us and more importantly, respected by all of us,” he added.
McNeil also invited Chief Denny and other Mi’kmaq leaders to his government caucus meetings to start their treaty education.
“So before we start with our children, let’s start with those of us who are privileged to be in leadership roles in this province,” McNeil said.
Brief history of the Peace and Friendship Treaties
In the 1700s, Mi’kmaq leaders signed a series of peace and friendship treaties with the British Crown. Both the Treaty of 1752 and the Treaty of 1760-61 guaranteed Mi’kmaq their right to hunt and fish for food as well as selling the fish they caught.
However, it took two landmark decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada in order for both the federal and Nova Scotia governments to recognize the Mi’kmaq’s right to hunt and fish for food as well as sell fish commercially.
In 1985, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the conviction of James Simon of Indian Brook First Nation for hunting deer during a closed season by recognizing he had a treaty right to hunt for food. It was the first time any court ruled that the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty was still valid.
Shortly after that court decision, then Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Donald Marshall, Sr., declared October 1 as Mi’kmaq Treaty Day in Halifax as per article six of the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty. The article calls for both Mi’kmaq leaders and the crown to renew friendships and exchange gifts.
In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned Donald Marshall, Jr.’s conviction for catching and selling eels without a license because the justices ruled the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1760-61 guaranteed his right to commercially fish for a living.
Following the Marshall court decision, both the federal and provincial governments entered into talks with Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq leaders to interpret treaty rights in a modern day context.
Mi’kmaq Treaty Day ceremonies began with the flag raising ceremony at Government House before a mass was held at St. Mary’s Basilica. Due to the rainy weather, the veterans march was moved inside at the World Trade and Convention Centre.
Following the signing of the memorandum of understanding, a feast was served at the World Trade and Convention Centre. Elder, youth and scholarship awards were presented afterwards.
For a list of the award winners, please click here.