Senator floats idea of Mi'kmaq seat in N.S. provincial legislature
Lt.-Gov. Mayann Francis reads the throne speech at the opening of Nova Scotia legislature in Halifax on Thursday, March 29, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, June 15, 2017 4:41AM EDT
HALIFAX - A Nova Scotia member of the Senate says the time may be right to re-examine the possibility of creating a Mi'kmaq seat in the provincial legislature.
Dan Christmas, who was appointed to Ottawa's Upper Chamber as a non-partisan senator last fall, said he thinks relations between the provincial government and Mik'maq First Nations have improved since the idea was first brought forward in the late 1980s.
The Liberal government announced prior to the May 30 election that it had formed an independent commission to consult Acadians and African Nova Scotians on effective electoral representation and also pledged to create a separate electoral boundary commission in late January of next year.
Christmas believes the process could provide an opportunity if there is support for the idea by the Mi'kmaq.
"It's still an open issue," said Christmas. "It's unresolved and if the province is going to hold meetings again then perhaps that can be considered again."
Christmas, who had previously served as senior adviser to Membertou's band council since 1997, admits the issue has been a quiet among First Nations representatives, but he said he doesn't necessarily see that as disinterest.
"I suspect that's a good sign because it sort of indicates that the relationship between the Mik'maq and the province is good, it's strong and it's productive," he said.
Christmas said the idea of some sort of Mi'kmaq representation in the legislature originated with some provincial parliamentarians who wanted to try to improve relations strained by a variety of issues, including those raised by the 1989 Marshall Inquiry. A Royal Commission eventually exonerated Donald Marshall Jr. in 1990, and determined systemic racism had contributed to his wrongful imprisonment for a murder in 1971.
The political effort resulted in an addition to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly Act that declares the "intention" of the House to include a Mik'maq representative as a member to "sit in a manner and upon terms agreed to and approved by representatives."
"The idea was reviewed and was considered by the Mi'kmaq, but it didn't get a very broad base of support at the time," Christmas said. "People couldn't see the benefit that this would have for Mi'kmaq people."
Christmas said he believes much as changed in provincial-aboriginal relations since 1989 and reviving the idea of some sort of representation could hold some appeal, although the role of a Mi'kmaq member would have to be determined.
"That's never been really truly resolved," he said. "It's not to say we can't revisit it, but at this point there are still some questions to be answered."
Last month's provincial election saw a bid by Eskasoni First Nation member Trevor Sanipass to become the first Mi'kmaq elected to the legislature.
The NDP candidate placed a strong third in the riding of Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank.
Following his election loss Sanipass said he hoped his candidacy would inspire other members of the Mi'kmaq community to run for political office.