Atlantic First Nations urged to ‘work together’ to achieve self determination

HALIFAX _ Indigenous communities in Atlantic Canada need to work together to achieve self-determination, a former grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations said as a summit on self-governance wrapped up in Halifax Thursday.

Ruth Massie said collaboration between communities and the participation of all Indigenous Peoples is critical as First Nations work on finding a pathway to nationhood in the Atlantic region known as Mi’kma’ki.

“The key is to work together and make decisions at home before you approach Canada,” she said in an interview after speaking to hundreds of delegates about Yukon’s self-government agreements.

Massie said self-determination for most Indigenous communities means having their own government, control and protection of their own lands, better education, health care and basic human rights.

“It’s about having control of our own destiny,” she said.

Her comments came at the end of the three-day summit featuring First Nations leaders from across Canada.

Antle Denny, Grand Keptin of the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, said the experiences shared by the leaders during the inaugural summit have “opened some eyes” as to the different approaches taken by First Nations across the country to implement self-government agreements.

He said he’s hopeful the gathering will further unite Indigenous Peoples in the region as they strive for full recognition of the Mi’kmaw Nation.

“We’re a sovereign nation,” Denny said. “We don’t need Canada’s approval to rise up and deal with them on a nation-to-nation basis.”

He added: “We’re their allies, not their subjects. When our people rise up, we expect them to deal with us as their ally.”

The summit comes several months after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched a national engagement process with Indigenous Peoples.

A new legislative framework, to be developed in partnership with First Nations, Metis and Inuit, is intended to recognize and implement Indigenous rights and help tackle the many challenges facing Indigenous communities.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who delivered the summit’s keynote address earlier this week, said First Nations hold the inherent right to self-government.

He said an overriding goal for Indigenous Peoples is to fully exercise their right to self-determination.

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