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MEMBERTOU: A COMMUNITY TO LEARN FROM

WALK WITH ME

Why bother giving Indigenous people, or frankly any individual, with good ideas a position that can make real change? Why are we hired or vetted when your organizations and community won’t listen or work together. The momentum is great to recruit Indigenous people but when you get us there you refuse to support the recommendations we give or support initiatives that could bring positive change to Cape Breton especially the Municipality of CBRM.

In recent days I learned that a former colleague, Fire Chief/Director of Fire and Emergency Services Michael Seth, tendered his position with CBRM. Did you know that he is the first Indigenous person, Tuscarora Mohawk from Ontario, to hold that position in all of Canada?

If you knew about the work he had done prior to coming to Unama’ki, you’d be devastated to know that he no longer serves CBRM residents. He has so many innovative and progressive ideas that could have made the municipality the envy of all across Canada. But nope, the ability to work with him was shut down. Good job CBRM, another one bites the dust!

Don’t forget readers, I resigned in January as the L’nu advisor to CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall, so I have an inside eye to the things that happen at City Hall.

Cape Breton is supposed to be famous for its goodwill and good cheer. It’s supposed to be known for its friendly folk and spectacular scenery. It’s known, in my opinion, to be an island and community where good ideas go to die because the people here can’t deal with change!

It is also a very racist community, but the racist voices will deny this and profusely deny any wrongdoing. ‘It wasn’t me.’ I’m not the problem’. Why is that? I believe it’s because they can’t see themselves like we see them, and by we, I mean the Indigenous people and racialized minorities who live here in Unama’ki. We see it, we hear it, we feel it.

Think about this for a moment. Not so long-ago people wouldn’t have ventured into the community of Membertou. I remember when cab drivers wouldn’t take me or my friend’s home from the bar in my early twenties because they were afraid to get robbed or killed. True story.

Now, Membertou welcomes the world. Let me say that again. Membertou welcomes the world. They welcome the world because of the initiatives and leadership displayed and undertaken by my beautiful friend and once mentor Chief Terry Paul, his Council, and Community. Membertou now welcomes the world! Not Cape Breton, not Sydney, Membertou. Now what does that tell you?

It tells me that one of my Indigenous communities has found the recipe to make its community flourish. What other community in Unama’ki has a bowling alley, state of the art two pad arena, gaming facilities that out-shine the local Casino, and a hotel that is internationally renowned and has won award after award? The Membertou Trade and Convention Centre is booked months and years in advance for weddings, concerts, events and receptions.

Membertou welcomes the world while Cape Breton, specifically CBRM, sits back and watches in amazement. How many times have I heard that Chief Terry Paul should run for Mayor to turn the municipality around? But Chief Paul wouldn’t have the support from the Council to make CBRM thrive like Membertou. So, let’s just leave him to do the work in Membertou that benefits everyone.

I’m thankful that he’s where he is, helping his Indigenous community and the surrounding community. I believe many of you reading this column are working in Membertou right now.

Why is that do you think? Why do you continue to put up with the same thing, why do you elect the same individuals who stall and hinder a process of change? I shake my head thinking about this daily.

Why is CBRM unable to have any real progressive change. That’s what I said CBRM doesn’t like change and is stuck in the dark ages. We complain about so many things in this community, don’t say you don’t because you do. Then you sit back and wait for it to fall apart so you can say, “told you it wouldn’t work”. You set it up to fail right from the beginning so that initiatives don’t have an opportunity to grow and flourish.

I think CBRM could take a lesson or two from the community of Membertou. It could see how the Indigenous people of Membertou are thriving, and it could listen to the recommendations that come from Indigenous people who are vetted and hired in settler organizations. Maybe CBRM could learn a thing or two about real reconciliation, forgiveness, communication, and have a better sense of what a community can do if they work together.

Because this week marks both the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation and the beginning of Mi’kmaq History Month, I also want to remind people here in CBRM that my Indigenous ancestors were pushed from their traditional land, Kun’tewiktuk (King’s Road Reserve) by a former City of Sydney council and a fine gentleman named Joseph A. Gillies, who led the crusade.

You know where the Sydney Medical Arts building is on King’s Road? Well, that was where my ancestors lived from 1847 to 1926. We had homes there, lived a good life there, fished along those shores and the harbour waters was our original transportation water route. We had access to water, food, wood, and traditional medicine to sustain us.

In 1877 Joseph A. Gillies, a wealthy lawyer and eventual Member of Parliament campaigned to have the people of the Kings Road Reservation relocated, because he purchased an adjacent property. He, along with Sydney municipal officials pushed to force the Department of Indian Affairs to remove the people to another area, preferably outside of the city and away from the eyes of the general public, his words not mine.

Finally, after 37 years, (He was committed to this cause.), Joseph A. Gillies took his campaign to the Sydney City Council and on February 11, 1915, city council passed a resolution requesting the federal government immediately take the necessary to steps to remove the people of Kun’tewiktuk. It read:

“…the said reservation occupied as it is by over 20 families of the Micmac Tribe, has the most damaging and injurious effect upon all properties adjacent thereto.

“Therefore, resolved that the Government of Canada is hereby respectfully requested to immediately take the necessary steps for the removal of the Indians from their present location upon Kings Road.”

On March 15, 1916, the decision to remove the Indians of King’s Road reservation was sealed in a Sydney Court by Justice Audette. Our people stayed there for four more years before land could be acquired by the federal government.

The last family to leave Kun’tewiktuk moved in 1928 and from 1926 to 1964 the land sat vacant. The City of Sydney tried to lease the land for many years, but Indian Affairs would never approve it. In 1946, after 20 years a lease was finally signed by the Minister of Mines and Energy and the City of Sydney starting on October 1, 1946. Oddly enough Treaty Day falls every year on October 1st. Finally in 1964 Reserve No.28 was issued to Dr. F.J Kelley and the Medical Arts building was eventually erected.

It was the first time an Indigenous community was legally forced by the courts to relocate in Canadian history. A guy found us Indigenous people to be unsightly and used all his energy to relocate our people, my ancestors from Kun’tewiktuk.

Has anything changed since then? I think the resignation of two Indigenous people from CBRM in the past year says it hasn’t.

In conclusion, if you’re going to hire us then you should start listening to us, maybe things will start to change. Stop asking for our help, stop ticking off your check lists, stop having us come to your meetings if you’re not going to give us the respect and opportunity to do the jobs you hired us to do.

Most of us who work for non-indigenous organizations take the positions reluctantly because we have seen the track record, but we say yes to the jobs because we know we could make a difference if just given a chance.


To learn more about the King’s Road Reserve:

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