Jobs, housing and the issue of missing and murdered indigenous girls and women in Canada dominated the Unama’ki First Nation Roundtable discussion on First Nation issues held in Membertou October 8.
Approximately 30 people attended the gathering at the Membertou Entertainment Centre to hear what candidates running in the federal riding of Sydney-Victoria had to say about those issues just before advance voting polls opened Friday. The federal election takes place on October 19.
The political candidates running in the Sydney-Victoria riding included:
- Mark Eyking – Liberal Party
- John Douglas Chaisson – Conservative Party
- Dr. Monika Dutt – New Democratic Party
- Adrianna MacKinnion – Green Party
Three of five Mi’kmaq communities on Cape Breton Island are located within the Sydney-Victoria riding. They include Membertou, Eskasoni and Wagmatcook. Eskasoni has the largest on-reserve population in Nova Scotia.
The other two communities, Waycobah and Potlotek, are located in the Cape Breton-Canso riding, only other federal riding on the island.
All candidates stated their respective party’s official platform or stand on Aboriginal issues during their opening remarks to the small group.
One of the first questions asked was directed at Liberal candidate Mark Eyking about the Liberal Party’s promise to hold an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous girls and women in Canada in timely fashion.
“Of course, you want a non-partisan panel. You would also give them a mandate of how fast that they can do this and the resources they need to do this to make sure it’s done in an expedient time,” Eyking said in his response.
Adrianna McKinnon for the Green Party said funds need to be available immediately so Aboriginal women live in safe and affordable housing. Dr. Monika Dutt repeated the NDP’s promise to start that process within the first 100 days if elected, as well as improve education and housing conditions right away.
Conservative Party candidate John Douglas Chaisson said his party would take action immediately such as establishing women’s shelters on reserves but didn’t say if that action would include holding an inquiry.
Louise Paul from Membertou attended the political roundtable because she wanted to know what candidates’ parties will do for isolated First Nation communities in regards to improvements to housing, infrastructure, education and job prospects.
“I believe personally that First Nation communities need resources that they can keep living off so they can put into housing, into education,” Paul explained following the roundtable discussion.
Paul pointed to her own community and Millbrook First Nation’s financial success because they have access to resources to generate their own income to improve living conditions and opportunities for their band members.
For Paul, none of the candidates were able to answer her question in a meaningful way.
“I wanted to hear something where the government will come together and say, ‘Okay, what can we do that can allow the First Nations people to be self-sufficient,” she said.
Nadine Bernard, president of the Aboriginal Peoples Commission for the Liberal Party of Canada, organized the roundtable because she noticed First Nations issues weren’t being addressed in other forums taking place in Cape Breton during this election campaign.
“I had noticed the conversation of First Nation issues and First Nation concerns were touched upon but not so much elaborated on,” Bernard explained. “I wanted our First Nation people, especially our youth, to be a part of that conversation in a comfortable setting.”
Bernard said she was concerned that only 30 people showed up. However, she added, the same questions would have still been asked and answered.
“These 30 people are going to leave here today satisfied. They’re going to talk to their peers. They’re going to talk to people in the community and say they came here,” Bernard said.