P.E.I. will have its own regional chief to represent the region within the Assembly of First Nations for the first time.
The step comes two years after Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould, who sits on the assembly’s committee for charter renewal, and Lennox Island First Nation Chief Darlene Bernard put a resolution forward.
A news statement from Lennox Island stated the resolution was recalled back to the floor of the assembly’s virtual yearly general meeting this week. Many of the chiefs voted to modify the assembly’s charter to include a regional chief for P.E.I.
Gould noted the decision is vital in making sure the province is represented on a national level.
“This is something we’re very proud of and it took many, many years to get here,” declared Gould in an interview on Wednesday, stating he first introduced the idea 16 years ago and has consistently experienced pushback.
“This is a long time coming. I think for a provincial and territorial First Nations leadership to be recognized and have the same seat as every other province in the country, I’m just ecstatic.”
‘Voices are silenced’
The Assembly of First Nations is a national advocacy institution representing First Nation citizens in the country.
Presently, the regional chief who also represents New Brunswick represents P.E.I. In addition, the regional chief responsible for Nova Scotia represents Newfoundland and Labrador.
Noting there are thousands of Mi’kmaw people on the Island, Gould said,
“The Atlantic region receives a subpar representation at that table, which claims to represent all First Nations in Canada.”
“The geopolitical environment right now is exacerbated by the silent voices of our residential school survivors and their decedents. It’s unbelievable in this day and age; First Nations people’s voices are silenced…. That was the presentation I put to the chiefs. “
P.E.I. ‘just as important’
Gould also observed that P.E.I. First Nations bring a “high political asset” to the assembly, as Lennox Island First Nation and Abegweit First Nation travel with P.E.I.’s premier to the first ministers’ conference — a meeting of the provincial and territorial premiers and the prime minister.
“We are just as important as a small province and just as important … as some of the other larger provinces. It shouldn’t be based on per capita or the size when you’re talking about a treaty right,” stated Gould, observing that people on the Island have a particular stake in the fishing sector.
In the news release, Bernard termed the step
“a great win for P.E.I. First Nations.”
“The [assembly] has become an increasingly important voice on Indigenous matters in Canada. It made no sense for P.E.I. to be excluded from that very important executive council.”
“This has been a long time coming and I could not be more pleased.”
Gould said the details on how and when the new role will come into effect are still being figured out.