First Nation on way to self-government

Major milestone for Mi'Kmaq of Conne River

Clayton Hunt
Published on November 19, 2013

Chief Misel Joe beams with pride as he signs the Self-Government Agreement-In-Principle with the Federal and Provincial Governments on Friday, November 8.

Clayton Hunt photo

Down through the years the Mi'Kmaq of the Miawpukek First Nation (Conne River) have completed many long and historic journeys.

One of these significant treks started in 2004 when they began their odyssey toward self-government. This major trek took a giant step toward completion on Friday, November 8 when they signed a Self-Government Agreement-In-Principle (AIP) with representatives from the Provincial and Federal governments.

Chief Misel Joe signed the historic document on behalf of his people along with the Honourable Bernard Valcourt, Federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and the Honourable Nick McGrath, the Provincial Minister of Transportation and Works and Minister Responsible for Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs. The Honourable Tracey Perry, the MHA for Fortune Bay-Cape La Hune also signed the document on behalf of her constituents.

Minister Valcourt said that the AIG is a key to achieving reconciliation and to rebuilding relationships between First Nations and all Canadians while remembering a shared goal, which is to work toward a respectful relationship and a promising future for a better Canada that benefits everyone who lives here.

Minister Valcourt said, "Self-Government is one of the tools that can help First Nations to move away from the Indian Act which is an impediment for progress by aboriginals. Self-Government gives a First Nation greater control over its destiny, and it is this measure and the promises that come with it that will help Conne River grow as a community.

"The Miawpukek First Nation is a leader in this country of strong governance, of rigorous accountability, sound planning and financial management, which is a credit to Chief Joe, his council and the community at large.

"The signing of this AIG, although not a binding document, signals the beginning of the final agreement negotiations as it moves the Miawpukek First Nation one vital step closer to self government and self-sufficiency because good governance gives First Nations communities the tools needed to unlock economic opportunities for the benefit of their communities and their members and all Canadians.

"This AIG will provide the Mi'Kmaq of Conne River with greater flexibility and control in the delivery of their programs and services in a manner best suited to their culture and values."

Chief Misel Joe also talked about how the AIG will help the Miawpukek First Nation moves away from the Indian Act

'This AIG is so important for us," Chief Joe said, "as the Indian Act is so confining and outdated. Although we are the first aboriginal group in Atlantic Canada to sign a document like this, many First Nations across the country are trying to get themselves out from under the Indian Act. Self-government will allow us to do just that as we will no longer depend on the Federal Government, through the Indian Act, to do what we need to do to help this community grow and prosper.

The AIP sets out jurisdictions, rights and limitations for the Miawpukek First Nation in a variety of subject areas. These include culture and language, education, health, child and family services, land management, resource management, licensing, regulation and operation of businesses and administration of justice.

The Miawpukek First Nation's lawmaking powers are tied to reserve lands, with the exception of income support where the First Nation may offer income support to its members whether they live on or off reserve.

Tammy Drew, the General Manager of the Conne River Band Council, said that the AIP is momentous in that it will help the council fill in the details on information related to the school programs, health delivery and many other topics.

Ms. Drew said, "Overall, this AIP will help us find answers to the main question which is simply — what will self government mean on day-to-day basis for me as a band member living in Conne River? We still have a long way to go in the overall process, but this is certainly an important milestone in this important journey."

Minister McGrath said, "This government believes that the aboriginal society within our province should have self government as it makes them more sustainable from a cultural and historical point of view. I'm very proud to be a part of this historic moment today for the Miawupek First Nation."

Information on the AIG will be made public on the websites of the parties as part of a continuing effort to inform and engage third parties and key stakeholders during negotiations toward an eventual Final Agreement.