Under the shadow of the New Brunswick legislature, the Indigenous community gathered in celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day.
With a sacred fire burning on the front lawn, vendors, drummers, singers and the public shared together in the culture of New Brunswick’s First People.
“Today is a celebration of being Indigenous,” said elder Imelda Perley. “That’s why we wear our moccasins, we wear our regalia, we wear our ribbon skirts, we wear our wampum belts, we wear our four-leggeds and winged ones, and all of that. So today, I actually posted on my (Twitter that) I want non-Indigenous people to walk a mile in our moccasins to see what we face, not just today, but every day.”
She said it is about both seeing the achievements and the injustice Indigenous people face in New Brunswick and across the country.
Over the past few months, the relationship between the Higgs government and First Nations communities has been strained.
The government removed all official land acknowledgements and prohibits government employees from doing so publicly. Employees also cannot use the words unceded or unsurrended, either.
The Wolastoqey Nations and its chiefs have called for an inquiry into systemic racism, but the Higgs government has been unwilling to do so.
Two Indigenous people have also been shot and killed by police in recent years. Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi both died at the hands of police officers in 2020. Only coroner’s inquests were held, despite the push for inquiries.
Perley said a big step would be establishing that the Wolastoqey language is the first language of the province, similar to what has been done in neighbouring Nova Scotia.
Earlier in the spring, the City of Fredericton helped the Wolastoqey Grandmothers set up a location on the city’s northside for the language immersion school, citing the fewer than 100 Wolastoqey speakers the community has left.
Perley said she doesn’t believe the relationship with the Higgs government can be repaired, but is hopeful for future governments.
Wolastoq Grand Chief Ron Tremblay agrees with Perley.
“The irony is we’re here celebrating on the unceded land of the legislature,” he said. “We have to do it ourselves, we have to educate people, we have to educate the allies and we have to make stronger bonds.”
He said if people want to know more about the culture, “come talk to us.”
For St. Mary’s First Nation Chief Allan Polchies, Tuesday was also about celebrating achievements.
“We as Indigenous people are celebrating this day to honour our ancestors and to share with one another, today, about our beautiful culture, our language and to speak about the history but more importantly to talk about the future,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
He said the Wolastoqey chiefs know the relationship between the government and Indigenous communities is not strong.
On Tuesday, the government put out a statement recognizing the day. It also announced a new website that will track the provincial government’s progress in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.