The flags of the Wolastoqey, Mi’kmaq and Peskotomuhkati Nations were flown outside of the Legislature Monday to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Saint Mary’s First Nation Chief Alan Polchies says he appreciates the gesture, but believes the flags should fly permanently to recognize the three nations that share New Brunswick’s territory.
“It is important to acknowledge the people that are here. That flag should be flown every single day, 365 days a year, because we are the First Nations people of this land and territory,” Polchies said.
Aboriginal affairs minister Arlene Dunn and premier Blaine Higgs hoisted the flags with Polchies.
Dunn said she “absolutely” supports the three flags gaining a permanent spot alongside the Canadian and New Brunswick flags, the Union Jack and Acadian flag. Higgs said it’s something that could be a topic of conversation moving forward.
“It’s certainly worthy of a clear understanding and ultimately a recognition and if it’s here on the flags or whether it’s in some other matter, I think the flags certainly are an appropriate next step,” he said.
About 150 people gathered on the lawn of the legislature for an event hosted by the Wolastoqey Tribal Council (WTC), the Joint Economic Development Initiative and the Mawiw Council Inc. The theme for the event was allyship.
“We need our non-Indigenous allies to stand up with us, amplify our voices. Speak to your government representatives, write to them and let them know that you do not stand for these injustices that are being done on your behalf,” WTC senior advisor Megan Fullarton told the crowd.
Over the last year, two Indigenous people were shot and killed by police in New Brunswick. The government has resisted the subsequent calls for an inquiry into systemic racism from Indigenous leaders in the province, which has led some Chiefs to call for Dunn’s resignation.
The relationship between Chiefs and the government suffered further after the cancellation of longstanding tax agreements, which First Nations leaders say played an integral role in funding services for their communities.
Dunn said she still feels she can act as an ally for Indigenous people from inside government and around the cabinet table.
“We have had our challenges, there’s no doubt about it, but I think there’s lots of common ground we can work on together and that common ground is going to be what we build our relationship on,” she said.
Part of that common ground that Dunn is pinning her hopes on is an investigation into former Indian Day Schools in the province. Both Higgs and Dunn say they want to ensure that no child who attended the schools is unaccounted for. A meeting between the government and Chiefs took place last week and Dunn hopes that working together through the process will help to mend her relationship with Indigenous leaders.
“We’re going to do it by open communication, meeting more and just talking, talking about what matters, talking about what’s important and moving forward together,” she said.
Polchies said he feels the government has lots to do before they can call themselves true allies.
“The government wants to be allies but I’m not sure they’re there yet,” Polchies said.
“We have to change the outlook on how New Brunswickers and the New Brunswick government looks at Wolastoqey, Mi’kmaq and the Passamakhouti people in this province.”