Chief Darlene Bernard of Lennox Island First Nation was 54 before she started to learn the history of her people.
Now that she’s aware of it, she knows how important it will be for the future of Mi’kmaq-settler relations.
On Treaty Day, Oct. 1, a new collaborative research project between the provincial government and the Mi’kmaq was announced.
Aimed at adapting the school curriculum to help all Islanders learn Mi’kmaq history and language, Bernard hopes people will grow to understand more, and fear less, the treaties First
Nations are beginning to assert and to recognize the shared history between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
“While my Mi’kmaq ancestors signed this treaty for me, there was another party — your ancestors. And they signed it for you. It is important for us to know we are all treaty people, not just the Mi’kmaq," she told those assembled for the ceremony Thursday.
Of the research project, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said in his speech there is still a lot to be done.
“It’s an ambitious step. We’re in early stages, but every step we take forward together is a step in the right direction.”
The outdoor ceremony began for the second year with an introduction from MC Julie Pellissier-Lush, P.E.I.’s poet laureate and member of Lennox Island First Nation, and was followed by a prayer from elder Keptin James Bernard.
This was followed by speeches from chiefs Bernard and Junior Gould, of the Abegweit First Nation, and King.
In light of recent struggles for Indigenous fisheries in Nova Scotia, both Bernard and Gould took the opportunity to acknowledge the Marshall decision and the ongoing need for permanent arrangements to be made with governments to ensure the treaty rights of the Mi’kmaq are honoured.
“Many moons ago, your court has allowed and recognized that we have the right to feed our families; we have a right not to be impoverished; we have a right to a moderate livelihood,” said Gould.
However, 21 years later, moderate livelihood still hasn’t been defined, he said.
The ceremony was also a time to acknowledge the positive changes they and the provincial government have been able to accomplish together on the strength of their ongoing relationship.
“Treaty Day is recognized annually in Mi’kma’ki as an opportunity to celebrate the Mi’kmaq treaties and to educate the public about the covenant chain of treaties,” said Bernard. “It is also an occasion to renew partnerships and friendships with non-Indigenous governments and partners.”
Much of that work has been done through L’nuey, an organization meant to protect, preserve and implement the constitutionally entrenched rights of the Mi’kmaq of P.E.I., Epekwitk.
The organzation also celebrated its first year a few days earlier, on Sept. 28.
Throughout the year, L’nuey saw the launch of a podcast, Juku’e, to continue reaching out to their community during coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) restrictions sidelining much of their plans, a trip to New Zealand to learn from the way their Indigenous-crown relations have matured and Ni’n aq No’Kmaq, an ongoing process to determine the rights holders of the existing treaties.
Education is also a vital step in their process, said Jenene Wooldridge, executive director.
“We have really focused our efforts on ensuring that our communications are up to date and making sure that we are pushing out as much education and awareness material as possible to not only inform our community members, but the general public as well.”
She’s proud of the foundation her team accomplished and is looking forward to another successful year, she said.
“I think we’re doing as much as we can in a short period of time and we look forward to doing a lot more of that.”