MILLBROOK — As a hunger strike in Millbrook stretches into its second week, there are disputes about the information that prompted the fast.
Shelley Young of Eskasoni First Nation and Jean Sock of the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick have had only water for seven days. They and a group of supporters are protesting what they say is a lack of consultation between Mi’kmaq chiefs and their people.
As chiefs work with the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative, or Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn, to develop the Made-in-Nova Scotia process, Young said she fears the final agreement with the province and Ottawa will strip existing treaties, remove environmental protections and impose hardships through self-government.
Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn goes by the acronym KMK.
“This agreement is detrimental to our people,” she said Thursday. “We have no trust for (KMK). We do not want them representing us. They’re not looking out for the poor people … who will suffer if self-government goes through.”
Eric Zscheile, an associate negotiator with KMK, said he worries people haven’t read the agreement’s framework.
If people do, Zscheile said they would see that the agreement, signed in 2007, makes clear the process is “all about recognizing, respecting and implementing the Mi’kmaq treaties.”
There is a clause that says the process isn’t a renegotiation or replacement of existing treaties, he said. Negotiations also have nothing to do with attempting to alter the federal Indian Act.
There is also no massive bill for the communities to cover, said Zscheile. Loan funding won’t be used for the Mi’kmaq participation. In fact, if government tried to do that, the chiefs could walk away from the table free and clear. The cost of negotiations also wouldn’t come from any settlement reached, said Zscheile.
“I think in the past 10 years the Assembly (of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs) has received somewhere around $10million in grant funding.”
The crux of negotiations focus on existing Mi’kmaq rights such as fishing and hunting and better ways to implement and exercise those rights, he said.
“What we would like to see at the end of this process is the ability of Mi’kmaq people to exercise their rights, according to their treaties, to access those resources and to be able to do so in a way that they’ll be safe from being charged or having equipment seized.”
The other focus is ensuring the Mi’kmaq can be active in managing resources and have a say in how they are used. Zscheile said comparing the process to those that have happened out west and up north is like comparing apples and oranges.
“In British Columbia, they don’t have historical treaties.”
Young and Sock have said they won’t end their fast until all of the chiefs pull out of the agreement. So far, four of the Nova Scotia chiefs have visited them and Indian Brook First Nation council voted Tuesday to pull out.
Chief Rufus Copage said the subject has been discussed since last November’s band election. Copage said the band would negotiate on its own behalf in the future as necessary.
He couldn’t say what impact, if any, the fast had on his council’s decision, but he is concerned about Sock and Young.
“I support Idle No More, but I don’t support people starving themselves over politics.”
Young said the group’s effort is about awareness.
“The reason why we’re here and had to take this drastic measure was to wake the people up. It’s up to the people in the end.”
On that point there is no doubt.
Before any final agreement or accord can be accepted, it must go to a referendum of the First Nations people.
While the hope was to have an initial draft agreement soon, Zscheile said they are “not even close.”
“We have nothing planned for April 1. We’re not trying to put a hard and fast timeline on things.”
The Chronicle Herald – March 8, 2013 – 6:56am By MICHAEL GORMAN Truro Bureau