Chief Ross Perley of the Tobique First Nation says New Brunswick’s decision to reboot its Truth and Reconciliation Working Group was news to him.
“I agreed to participate in this committee 12 months ago,” he told Global News in a statement emailed to Global News Friday.
“This is work the provincial government should have been doing over the last few years and it had set aside.”
Chief Rebecca Knockwood of the Fort Folly First Nation says the working group was developed in 2016 when Brian Gallant’s Liberal government was in power.
“Then all of the sudden because of government shifts it just stopped,” she said.
Recently appointed Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn says the work of this group is now overdue.
“This is something we really need to get a move on,” she says. “It’s something that really needs to be prioritized.”
Dunn says diversity and inclusion are close to her heart.
“It’s something I’ve worked nearly 31 years to make sure that I promote,” she says.
“And you can’t make that stuff up because you can Google and see what a person’s track record is.”
Dunn took on the role of Aboriginal Affairs minister – and three other cabinet positions – at the end of September.
She says this working group is not a substitute for looking into systemic racism in New Brunswick.
Activists have been calling for a public inquiry into systemic racism in the province’s justice system after two Indigenous New Brunswickers, Rodney Levi and Chantel Moore, were shot and killed by police officers in separate incidents.
The province has so far failed to act on that call.
“In terms of the systemic racism piece, I’ve been doing some work on that,” says Dunn.
“I’m committed to the systemic racism piece. I’m not going to waver in that commitment… The government’s committed to it and we are going to do something about it.”
In his statement, Perley reiterated the need for that action.
“This measure does not replace the need for a New Brunswick inquiry into systemic racism, and we can’t lose sight of that fact,” he writes.
“It also doesn’t address another major issue that is the sharing of wealth from resources within our unceded territory.”
Imelda Perley, an instructor at the Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre at the University of New Brunswick, applauds the re-establishment of the working group.
But she hopes the province can take bigger steps towards reconciliation.
“One of the things, for example, would be for Wolastoq (the Indigenous name for the St. John River) to get her name back,” Perley says.
“That would address most of the calls to action because it really puts back in place the power of identity… Don’t make us out to be who you think we should be, know us by who we know we are.”
Imelda Perley hopes future meetings of the Truth and Reconciliation Working Group won’t be held in offices behind closed doors.
“I hope that they’re done in the communities,” she says. “I hope they’re done around council fires.”
The group’s first meeting will be held virtually. It’s scheduled for Dec. 21.