Lennox Island First Nation Chief Darlene Bernard gets animated when you ask her why P.E.I. needs its own AFN regional chief.
She sounds very much like other Prince Edward Island public officials who have to make their case nationally. When you’re from the smallest province, you need to raise your voice to be heard.
“As a chief in P.E.I. – one of only two – we can’t be left behind. You know what happens every time I go to meetings? In the past and stuff,” asks Bernard.
She holds up her hand on the Zoom call like a student answering attendance. “‘Hey, it’s P.E.I. here. Because they’ll be saying ‘Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Toronto’, all those places and they forget the Island. And I’m like, “Yoo-Hoo, P.E.I.’s here. We’re here,’
“And it’s sad, we shouldn’t have to be an afterthought.”
The two First Nations on P.E.I. are Lennox Island and Abegweit First Nation. Combined, they have roughly 1,500 members which is tiny compared to other areas represented by AFN regional chiefs.
Bernard believes that First Nations on P.E.I have unique concerns. That’s why the two Nations put forward a motion at the 2019 AFN general assembly to study the idea.
This time, it has come up for a vote.
“Prince Edward has always been lumped in with New Brunswick,” explains Bernard.
Bernard was chief in Lennox Island from 2001 to 2013, and was recently returned to the office in 2019.
When she started in 2001, she began to see how the province was considered an offshoot of New Brunswick.
“For many years, we were a part of their tribal council, the Saint John River Valley Council. Way back in the day, when I first became chief, it became very apparent to me that they have a different agenda. New Brunswick has a different agenda.”
When it comes to accessing federal and provincial programs and funding, Bernard feels at a disadvantage. As New Brunswick’s junior partner, getting their voice to the table is harder. Bernard wants to be able to pitch for P.E.I., not just help New Brunswick.
“We need to have our own voice,” says Bernard. “We’re a full province and right now we are a part of the New Brunswick regional chiefs area. At the end of the day, we’re P.E.I. First Nations, so we need to have our own voice at the table. The AFN is a national table and our voices need to be at that table.”
AFN’s General Assembly runs from July 6 to 8, and is being held online this year.