Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik leaders get set to meet to discuss self-government from the ground up

Leaders from Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik First Nations are meeting in K’jipuktuk (Halifax) Tuesday starting Tuesday to share information on self-governance within their communities.

“We have to restructure ourselves, our local communities and local reserves,” said Roger Augustine, regional chief for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).

“We have to do this before we start self-government, and this is what we are learning to get ready to do.”

Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik First Nations leaders will be meeting in to learn ideas and discuss the framework of self-government for their own communities and nationhood.

About 300 people are expected to attend the First Nations Self Government Summit.

Augustine said this summit is a different strategy, bringing information from experts for the chiefs to use what they want, and think will work for them – a bottom up approach.

“The tragic news is that we were always pushed from the top,” said Augustine. “This is the design that the government thinks that should be done. I know Carolyn Bennett, she is pushing hard from what and how she understands all this should materialize, the Prime Minister has his own ideas how this should be done but that has to come from the Chiefs themselves across Canada and when they are ready, that is when it will unfold.”

The summit comes as the federal government is attempting to write legislation that it says will get First Nation communities out from under the Indian Act.

But many leaders are pushing back against the Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework saying it is being rushed and their ideas for self-governance are not being listened to.

“The goal of the summit is to learn from other nations, examine existing policies as they develop their nationhood,” said co-host Chief Morley Googoo, regional chief for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland for the AFN.

Googoo said he is looking forward to hearing the many kinds of perspectives from people with a lot of knowledge.

“With 58 different tribes across the country, we all have a lot to learn from each other. We are looking for this region, the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik,” said Googoo.

“We want to look what will work for us and what will not work for us.”

Augustine said a lot of different knowledge from former national chiefs will open the dialogue to what self-government should look like for this region.

“Chief Ovide Mercredi worked strongly with provincial governments, a lot of expertise, a lot of internal and external intelligence that he is going to share. Chief Matthew Coon Come is an aggressive leader and still doing a lot of work in self-government, he has taken on the approach with economics, he knows to have power you have to have a treasury to do things,” said Augustine.

Economics will be an important aspect of the summit.

“When time comes when government puts on pressure on first nations, chiefs and councillors, you need the necessary funds to defend yourself, or you have to take what is offered,” said Augustine.

Googoo said he hopes to inspire people and wants to find what self-governance looks like on Mi’kmaq territory.

“Our culture and traditions are our own, there is a split of understanding with the governments. We lived in balance with the land. Our societies are still different, now we need to find our own governance our own way,” said Googoo.

“Our provinces could be more flexible with us trying to be self-sustaining.”

Googoo said the moose hunt is an example.

“The law of treaty right needs to be acknowledged, and for fishery we have a right for moderate livelihood, and we need more than small agreements,” he said. “Indigenous plans should be added to developments and future endeavours of the province. We want to work with the province as economic partners.

“Business should not go on as usual when we are fed words of reconciliation. That does not help the economy in our First Nations, it does not change the salt boxes homes in our communities. If we want a good quality of life, we should have the same quality of houses as everyone,” said Googoo.

People have been struggling with these issues for decades and Googoo said it is time for change.

He said the first step is to develop a framework, to come together.

Googoo said he wants to use his leadership for the positive and make change.

The summit is to bring added value and develop the framework to be prepared for the future, so we will be more independent of the federal government, no matter who is in power.

Communities need the structure to stand on their own, and that is what we are working towards.

The AFN is reaching out to the chiefs and council.

“We are not pushing any concept or strategy, this is not the end all, just some high-level intelligence and expertise,” said Augustine.

“We have to readdress the AFN to accommodate self-government strategy. A lot of work has to be done at home, by individual Chiefs and their community.”

This is the beginning of the structuring of self -government, more summits are planned so all communities are included.

“Morley and I both have a lot to learn, we are going to be listening to our local Chiefs and Councillors, we have a long way to go,” said Augustine.

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