Chiefs Express Profound Disappointment With Higgs Government
MARCH 24, 2021 (Fredericton) – The leadership of both Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Incorporated (MTI) and the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick (WNNB) strongly denounce the unilateral action taken today by the Higgs government in a misguided attempt to address the serious issue of systemic racism in New Brunswick.
This announcement does not meet the standard that MTI and WNNB had set in 2020 when the organizations had called for an inquiry into systemic racism in New Brunswick.
Provincial Minister Arlene Dunn issued a news release with no prior consultation with the elected Chiefs of New Brunswick First Nations – and no explanation, as she sat silent on the matter in the Legislature.
“We are profoundly disappointed that Minister Arlene Dunn has made this announcement with no consultation with Indigenous people,’’ said St. Mary’s Chief Allan Polchies on behalf of WNNB. “There could be no better example of what systemic racism looks like than non-racialized people setting out a process to address racism without consulting those most affected – First Nations people.’’
Chief George Ginish of Natoaganeg First Nation, speaking on behalf of MTI, said the surprise move represents the sad state of relations between First Nations and the Higgs government.
“No one from the Higgs government reached out to any of us to discuss this proposed process. Once again, the Province thinks they understand racism better than those who experience it. It’s more of the same paternalism. The Province claims they value their relationship with the First Nations of this province. They have a strange way of showing it,” continued Chief Ginish.
Chief Bill Ward of Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation said he has serious concerns about the proposed process and timeframe outlined by the government. “What are the terms of reference for this Commissioner? Does the Executive Council Office understand what
qualifications this individual will need? Is this government going to seek any input from us into the hire?”
Chief Ward said this ‘Commissioner’ is being asked to provide recommendations to develop a provincial strategy to address: barriers to opportunity; equitable access to programs and services; and systemic racism in health care, education, social development, housing, employment and criminal justice. “These are serious and entrenched issues that require time to examine properly. I’m not sure any individual can handle such a huge undertaking within twelve months.”
Chief Polchies questioned if this government understands the importance of getting this right.
“Last summer we proposed an inquiry focused on systemic racism in the justice system. The Higgs government opposed such an inquiry, stating they didn’t need more studies and wanted action, not for another study to sit on the shelf. On March 13th, the provincial government made an announcement to spend money on another separate study into racism against Black people. The Higgs government is now proposing a long-term, broad-based study of systemic racism against all racialized people in New Brunswick that ultimately pre-determines that the needs and experiences of all minority communities will be the same. As we have already stated, we support actions against systemic racism against other racialized groups. However, the systemic racism faced by Indigenous people is unique as is the relationship Indigenous people have with the Province. The experiences and subsequent recommendations need to be addressed in an equally singular and unique way. The process to get to the recommendations is just as important which is why we need to be there from the onset. It is also not clear how the Higgs government plans to ensure that this is not just another study that will end up on a shelf with no action. The province feels if they have a report with recommendations, that’s enough.”
In conclusion, Chief Polchies said “This government’s approach towards addressing systemic racism and its relationship with the Indigenous Peoples of this province is offensive and should be of concern to all New Brunswickers.’’