The Kji-Keptin of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, or Santé Mawio’mi, says Mi’kmaw families and communities need to become more politically active and speak out in order to protect the Mi’kmaw Nation’s Aboriginal and treaty rights.
“Our chiefs and lawyers have proven Mi’kmaw inherent and treaty rights are constitutionally protected in the Canadian courts but most Mi’kmaw families are still living in the chains of the colonial law of the Indian Act,” Antle Denny said during Mi’kmaq Treaty Day celebrations in Halifax on Monday.
“The Supreme Court of Canada has been good in affirming our ancient rights but provincial governments and the courts continue to infringe on our rights,” Denny said in his speech.
The Kji-Keptin referenced the 2018 Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decision in the court case involving Mi’kmaw hunters, Aaron Paul and Charles Francis from Eskasoni First Nation, N.S. In that decision, the court of appeal dismissed the hunters’ appeal of two lower court decisions that found them guilty of hunting at night using high powered lights.
Both Paul and Francis argued at trial they had an Aboriginal right to hunt for food or ceremonial purposes and that Mi’kmaw people had traditionally used torches at night to hunt.
“These cases bring Nova Scotia back to the darkness of the colonial era,” Denny said. “These cases prove the judicial and political status quo pushes back against our constitutional rights that were finally recognized in 1982.”
Denny was also critical of the current negotiations processes involving First Nation leaders with government and corporations.
“The various negotiations processes are increasingly gridlocked and have not created the better conditions we need. They have not proved effective,” Denny said.
“The Mi’kmaq need to continue to push for the rule of law and respect for human rights (through) marches, protests and mobilization,” he said.
“We’re still fighting for our treaties in court.” – Ginny Marshall
More than 400 people gathered at Grand Parade Square and at the Halifax Convention Centre to mark the 33rd annual Mi’kmaq Treaty Day celebrations.
The annual gathering commemorates the signing of the 1752 Peace and Friendship Treaty between the Mi’kmaq and the British Crown. An article of the treaty calls for representatives of both sides to gather in Halifax to renew friendships and exchange gifts.
Treaty Day began with a flag raising ceremony of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council flag Government House in downtown Halifax followed by a mass at St. Mary’s Basilica. Participants then marched towards Grand Parade Square in a parade to honour veterans.
In a foreshadow of Kji-Keptin Denny’s remarks, a member of the Mi’kmaq Warriors Society briefly disrupted the flag-raising ceremony at Grand Parade Square by shouting that Mi’kmaq treaty rights are not being respected.
“We’re still fighting for our treaties in court,” Ginny Marshall shouted during the flag-raising ceremony.
This year marked the first time Norman Sylliboy took part in treaty day ceremonies since being appointed as the Mi’kmaq Grand Chief or Kji Saqmaw on July 30.
In his remarks at the Halifax Convention Centre, Kji Saqmaw Sylliboy spoke about the seven districts of Mi’kma’ki which spans the four Atlantic Canada provinces and parts of Quebec and Maine.
“We need to work as one as Grand Council represents all those districts,” Sylliboy said.
That sentiment was echoed by Kji-Keptin Denny in his closing remarks. He said he would like to see the Prime Minister, premiers and First Nation leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Quebec gather in Halifax for Mi’kmaq Treaty Day.
“I forsee future treaty day celebrations inclusive of all partners and friends that this treaty meant to include,” Denny said.
“The reason we come together is to unite our nation. That can only be done through your sovereign Mi’kmaq Grand Council, the true Mi’kmaw government of the nation.”