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Senator Dan Christmas says Jaime Battiste’s win in Sydney-Victoria will prove historically significant
Canada’s first Mi’kmaq senator says Jaime Battiste’s election to the House of Commons will go down as a milestone event.
Sen. Dan Christmas, who was appointed to the Upper House three years ago, said the election of Battiste, who won the district of Sydney-Victoria for the Liberal Party, was the logical next step in what has been a steady improvement in relations between Cape Breton’s Mi’kmaq and the island’s non-Indigenous communities.
“Things have been changing and my appointment three years ago to the Senate was probably the first inkling of that, but to have an elected, sitting member of Parliament who is a Mi’kmaq is groundbreaking,” said Christmas, a Membertou native who was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Jaime’s election is historical and I think it will be one of those days that you will always look back on and remember when it first happened.
“What’s so wonderful about this is that a person from a Mi’kmaq community can not only be a leader in Mi’kmaq communities, but can also be a leader of Cape Bretoners and I think that’s a sign of the times that leadership can be recognized regardless of where it comes from.”
But while he was thrilled with Battiste’s narrow victory in one of the country’s most closely contested electoral districts, the historically aware Christmas said the election of a Mi’kmaq MP is long overdue.
“The Mi’kmaq were never involved during the whole process of the coming together of Canada in Confederation. Never were the Mi’kmaq ever involved in Parliament or involved in the business of running Canada,” he stated.
“So, his election is very significant — it’s 152 years too late, but it’s better late than never.”
Eskasoni chief proud of Battiste
Eskasoni First Nation Chief Leroy Denny also noted Battiste’s election as an historic occasion.
“He’s our first Mi’kmaq MP and we’re very proud of him,” said Denny.
“He’s intelligent, he’s dedicated, he’s a workhorse and he we will work hard for all of us — he’s intelligent, dedicated and he won’t disappoint.”
The Eskasoni chief also praised Battiste for the way he dealt with revelations first published in the Toronto Sun newspaper that he made racist and sexist posts on social media platforms when he was younger. Battiste apologized for those messages, explaining they were mistakes he made during a difficult time.
“They threw everything at him, but he didn’t give up, he didn’t quit, I am very proud to be his friend,” said Denny.
Residents react to Battiste's victory
Meanwhile, life was continuing on as usual in Eskasoni the day after the election. Other than a few Battiste campaign signs, there was no indication an election had been held, let alone that a Mi’kmaq was going to Ottawa as the MP for Sydney-Victoria.
But people were talking about the vote.
First Nations residents Trudy Googoo and Elizabeth Gould both knew Battiste when they were younger and agreed that their new MP is a man of intelligence.
“I think everybody around here thinks he’s a good guy — he is really smart and we think he’s going to do really good in Ottawa,” said Googoo.
Added Gould: “I remember him as always being a really nice guy. I think he got picked on and bullied a lot when he was younger. But he’s overcome that and I think it’s great that he won. And it’s great that he is Mi’kmaq.”
Noel Denny, who was found staffing an Eskasoni convenience store, back up the women’s claim that Battiste has what it takes to be the first Mi’kmaq Member of Parliament.
“Oh, we’re all really happy he won — he’ll do a good job because he’s a real smart guy and he’s for real,” said Denny.
While Battiste is the first Mi’kmaq to be elected to the House of Commons, he is far from the first Indigenous person to represent constituents in Ottawa. Over the years, 39 Indigenous persons have served as MPs, the first two being Pierre Delorme and Angus McKay, who were elected as Conservative MPs in 1871. There have also been 17 Indigenous senators.
Many have also been elected to provincial legislatures. At present, there are 25 Indigenous people who are members of six different legislatures. However, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island remain the only two provinces to have never elected an Indigenous person.
Strong showing for independent
Meanwhile, Sydney-Victoria independent candidate Archie MacKinnon was found collecting campaign signs he had placed around the district.
MacKinnon, who finished fourth with 14 per cent of the vote (5,679 votes), said he estimates that his support probably cost Conservative candidate Eddie Orrell the election.
“And, I’m very pleased to have done that — this guy did nothing as an MLA and I didn’t want him being our MP,” said MacKinnon, who garnered the third-highest number of votes of all the independents who ran across Canada.