N.S. senator wonders if it's time for Mi'kmaq seat in provincial legislature
Senator Dan Christmas says the time may be right to re-examine the possibility of creating a Mi'kmaq seat in the Nova Scotia legislature. (Membertou First Nation)
Keith Doucette, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Thursday, June 15, 2017 8:28AM ADT
Last Updated Friday, June 16, 2017 8:13AM ADT
HALIFAX -- A Nova Scotia senator says the time may be right to re-examine the establishment of a Mi'kmaq seat in the provincial legislature -- and the premier says his government is open to it too.
Dan Christmas, a Mi'kmaq who was appointed to Ottawa's Upper Chamber as a non-partisan senator last fall, said he thinks relations between the provincial government and the Mi'kmaq have improved since the idea was first brought forward in the late 1980s.
The Liberal government announced prior to the May 30 election that it had formed an independent commission to consult Acadians and African Nova Scotians on effective electoral representation and also pledged to create a separate electoral boundary commission in late January of next year.
Christmas believes the process could provide an opportunity if there is Mi'kmaq support for the idea. The Nova Scotia legislature agreed to the idea in principle decades ago.
"It's still an open issue," said Christmas. "It's unresolved and if the province is going to hold meetings again then perhaps that can be considered again."
Christmas, who had previously served as senior adviser to Membertou's band council, admits the issue has been quiet among First Nations representatives, but he said he doesn't necessarily see that as disinterest.
"I suspect that's a good sign because it sort of indicates that the relationship between the Mi'kmaq and the province is good, it's strong and it's productive," he said.
In formal remarks delivered at the swearing in for his new cabinet on Thursday, Premier Stephen McNeil made a point of thanking a Mi'kmaq representative for being on hand.
"We are standing here in traditional Mi'kmaq territory," McNeil said. "I look forward as your minister to continuing to work side-by side with you to ensure that all Nova Scotians see themselves reflected in this province."
McNeil later told reporters that his government is open to discussing the concept of a Mi'kmaq seat, noting provincial legislation already endorses the idea. He also said it could be part of upcoming consultations on voting representation.
"One of the things that they (Mi'kmaq) have always said is that they want to go nation to nation and they believe it's the federal government that's the nation. That's part of the reason why they haven't taken the seat but we'd certainly revisit it with them, it's not an issue for us."
Christmas said the idea of some sort of Mi'kmaq representation in the legislature originated with some provincial parliamentarians who wanted to try to improve relations strained by a variety of issues, including those raised by the 1989 Marshall Inquiry. A Royal Commission eventually exonerated Donald Marshall Jr. in 1990, and determined systemic racism had contributed to his wrongful imprisonment for a 1971 murder.
The political effort resulted in an addition to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly Act that declares the "intention" of the House to include a Mi'kmaq representative as a member to "sit in a manner and upon terms agreed to and approved by representatives."
"The idea was reviewed and was considered by the Mi'kmaq, but it didn't get a very broad base of support at the time," Christmas said. "People couldn't see the benefit that this would have for Mi'kmaq people."
Christmas said he believes much has changed in provincial-aboriginal relations since 1989 and reviving the idea of some sort of representation could hold some appeal, although the role of a Mi'kmaq member would have to be determined.
"That's never been really truly resolved," he said. "It's not to say we can't revisit it, but at this point there are still some questions to be answered."
Last month's provincial election saw a bid by Eskasoni First Nation member Trevor Sanipass to become the first Mi'kmaq elected to the legislature. The New Democrat placed a strong third in the riding of Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank.
Following his election loss, Sanipass said he hoped his candidacy would inspire other members of the Mi'kmaq community to run for political office.