We are in Mi’kmaki. Nothing more needs to be said.

Photo above, Elder Albert Marshall and myself, in front of his sweat lodge, Eskasoni, CB.

In Nova Scotia more and more often of late, at the opening of public meetings, we are hearing reference to our residing in the “traditional ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq,” or the “unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq.” Coming from what we have come from, the forced and illegal taking and colonization of Mi’kmaki and the cultural genocide of First Nation peoples, as confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, we as First Nation peoples are thankful to hear others make any reference at all to Mi’kmaki and our territory. It wasn’t long ago, that we did not hope to hear this word, let alone some form of recognition. For this, I am thankful that it is now recognized. But today I am not writing about what others say. I am writing to help us understand what we should say. Should we also say that we are in unceded Mi’kmaq territory? Or that we are in our ancestral territory? For reasons that I will explain, I believe that we should not say it. There is no need. We need only say, “we are in Mi’kmaki.” Nothing more needs to follow.

Unceded land refers to the Indian title. When we say that our land is unceded, we are recognizing that the Indian title is still there. So why should we avoid terms like “unceded?” Because when non-First Nation people hear this word, they tend to think immediately about correcting this wrong. But it is not the wrong that you are thinking. They do not think that they should never have taken the land and that they should give it back. They do not even think that they should pay for the land. Rather, they think that they should arrange for the Indian title to be taken. They think that the correct and proper thing to do is to arrange for the Indian title to be ceded. Like it was ceded out west with the numbered treaties, or more recently, like the Dene’s territory in the Yukon was ceded. By saying that our land is unceded Mi’kmaq territory, most non-First Nations immediately think that this wrong should be corrected by having the land ceded.

If you say to them that Halifax is on unceded Mi’kmaq territory, their first thought is that the land should be ceded. The fact that the land was illegally taken should be corrected by legally taking it, which means to cede it. But ask any elder, or ask the Grand Council. They are in agreement that Mi’kmaki is not for sale and that the land will not be willingly ceded. The Indian title that belongs to the Mi’kmaq over all of Mi’kmaki is not for sale. In other words, they will never agree to cede the land.

To give an example, when the United States buys some land in Ottawa to build their consulate, afterwards, do they give little opening speeches mentioning that they are on the unceded, ancestral territory of the Canadian people. They do not. The United States Government may have bought that particular plot of land, as you or I might buy it, but they did not buy, and did not attempt to buy Canada’s underlying title. Canada’s title is not for sale. Yet, the Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia regularly attempt to discuss terms to purchase the underlying title from the Mi’kmaq. But it is not for sale. For this reason, we have no use for the word ‘unceded,’ and using this word at various opening ceremonies is an absurdity, or perhaps even, a minor insult. When we say that we are in Mi’kmaki, we are saying everything that needs to be said.
What about “ancestral territory?” The problem with using this term is that when we say that it is our ancestral territory, we are also saying something else. It sounds as though we are speaking of the past, and possibly, only the past. But this territory is ours today, and not merely in the past. We are in our current territory. It is Mi’kmaq territory, now, today, and so by saying that it is our ancestral territory, a little part is also saying that it is no longer our current territory, which is simply false. It is Mi’kmaki, the territory of the Mi’kmaq people, and we are in Mi’kmaki.


Halifax schools to start each day by recognizing Mi’kmaq lands: A Major Step Towards True Reconciliation.

Halifax Schools will start each day with this saying:

“We acknowledge that we are in Mi’kma’ki, which is the traditional ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq people.”

The Halifax School Board has recently made a major policy shift about how their students and teachers will start each day. Each morning, the students and the teachers, ‘acknowledge that we are in Mi’kma’ki’ The underlying psychology, the water running deep, is that Mi’kma’ki is real, and alive, and now.  Mi’kma’ki pre-dates Nova Scotia, and by its longevity, it is more solid, more lasting. By beginning each day acknowledging that we live in Mi’kma’ki, we come to feel that they are truly in Mi’kma’ki. When we recognize where we are, we feel complete and whole, and we feel that we are where we should be. This is how non-first Nations come to reconcile that their ancestors came to a foreign land and pretended it was just a new version of the land where they came from. This is a true and powerful step towards reconciliation.


Wind farm to be majority owned by Millbrook First Nation

Millbrook Community Wind is a proposed wind energy generation facility that is to be majority owned by Millbrook First Nation.  The proposed project is located on private land, approximately 5km southwest of Truro Nova Scotia. Project development will occur over the next few years, and will require a full Environmental Assessment to ensure that the project is developed in a manner compliant with all Federal, Provincial and Municipal requirements and fitting of the biological and cultural surroundings.


Honour of the Crown

Chief justice McLachlin, of the Supreme Court of Canada, spoke at the CBA Aboriginal Law conference in Ottawa this past May, 2016, on the topic of the Honour of the Crown. In her approximately 45 minute speech,  she made it plain that the Honour of the Crown requires that the Crown shall do the right thing:

‘The situations in which the Honour of the Crown applies are varied and diverse, yet the end goal is always the same, reconciliation. Quite simply, the Honour of the Crown asks the Crown, on behalf of us all, to do the right thing. As Thomas Issac has put it, “the Honour of the Crown is the cornerstone in the Crown’s fair dealings with Aboriginal peoples. It means nothing less than that the Crown must do the right thing in its dealings with Aboriginal peoples.”’

The significance of the Chief Justice’s affirmation is that she has articulated a simple test with which to measure the Crown’s dealings with Aboriginal peoples. Did the Crown do the right thing?

In other words, when the Crown deals with issues that affect Aboriginal peoples, whether for natural resource development consultation, treaty negotiation or interpretation, environmental remediation, or other matters, the Honour of the Crown will require the Crown to do the right thing.

What does it mean to do the right thing? The Oxford dictionary defines “right” as “morally good, justified or acceptable, and best or most appropriate for a particular situation.” In her speech, the Chief Justice explained the meaning of the Honour of the Crown, by reference to the Oxford dictionary. She stated:

“Which brings us back to the phrase, the Honour of the Crown. What does the phrase Honour of the Crown mean? The Oxford dictionary is a start. It offers two main meanings: an expression of high respect, esteem, deferential admiration. The second phrase equates honour with action and thought, with nobleness of mind and spirt. Magnanimity. Uprightness. Adherence to what is due or correct according to conventional and accepted standards of conduct. It seems to me that both definitions find their place in respect to Aboriginal law.

The first meaning signals respect and esteem that peoples owe to each other. The second speaks of fair dealing and adherence to what is due and correct not only in form but in substance. The ideas inherent in the Honour of the Crown are linked to legal notions of law, justice, and equity.”