Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative Engage Youth on Issues of Mi’kmaq Citizenship
By: Jaime Battiste, KMKNO Citizenship Coordinator
Today’s youth (18-29) are the first generation of Mi’kmaq in many generations to grow up having their rights as Mi’kmaw Recognized and Affirmed. Today’s Mi’kmaq Communities are also overwhelmingly young, with most having an average age under 29. Recognizing this, Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO) has looked to engage our youth in the Nova Scotia communities on their thoughts and opinions. Over the past few months, KMKNO has worked to engage youth throughout Nova Scotia and to hear their thoughts and opinions and to give feedback on the discussion of ‘who is Mi’kmaq’.
The participation of the youth began with the Indian Brook Youth Council attending the Nationhood Conference alongside the Chiefs, Councilors and Mi’kmaq organizations. As a follow-up to this, KMKNO held a video conference in June on Mi’kmaw Citizenship, in collaboration with the First Nations Help Desk and hosted by the LSK Indian Brook School. The video conference had participants from a few different Mi’kmaw schools and streamed live online for viewing. Chief Deborah Robinson, Lead Chief on Governance, and Dr. Pam Palmeter, a Mi’kmaw author of the book “Beyond Blood, Rethinking Indigenous Identity both helped to get the discussion going on Mi’kmaq Citizenship.
The youth participants quickly learned that the issues surrounding Mi’kmaq Citizenship are vast, and how important it is for them to be a part of the discussion. The youth also learned that currently there is no document, created by Mi’kmaq or Federal Government that defines Mi’kmaq Citizenship or Identity. We still rely on a definition by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, which has led to many of our community members no longer being recognized as ‘Indians’. Over the past 25 years, the question continues to be asked is: “who is a Mi’kmaq”? We need to know this to determine the beneficiaries of our Mi’kmaq rights.
During the video Conference Dr. Palmeter discussed how the current system is based on Blood Quantum, leading to Mi’kmaq being fractioned off and labeled according to blood, was not part of our Mi’kmaq culture. In fact, our Treaties state that they were for, “all their natural descendants, and their Heirs and the Heirs of their Heirs forever”. During the conference, As Chief Robinson stressed during the video conference, it is important that laws on Mi’kmaq Citizenship “must be developed, for the Mi’kmaq, by the Mi’kmaq”.
The youth became engaged in the topic and voiced strong opinions. Aaron Prosper, of Eskasoni stated, “we need to be less dependent on the Indian Act, to whereas we have our own decisions… if you spoke the language, if you practiced the culture, you were part of the community and I feel that’s what we should get to, to move forward on the discussion of who’s Mi’kmaq and who isn’t.”
Thomas Toney, from LSK Indian Brook, stated, “to think of ourselves as a race is a horrible thing to do in this day and age, because If we think ourselves our as race, then blood gets diluted more and more as time goes on. Eventually there will be no status Indians. We need to think of ourselves as a nation, a nation that welcomes outsiders, if you speak the language, if you practice the culture, you should be able to become Mi’kmaq…..We are doomed towards extinction if we do not begin to welcome people in.”
Since this conference, KKMNO has continued to show highlights of these discussions to two separate focus groups which were held with NS youth during the
Mi’kmaq Maliseet Atlantic Youth Council conference on August 7th and at the Mi’kmaq Summer Games in Eskasoni on August 22nd. During these screenings, these youth were asked to give feedback on the video clips and what is important to the youth for these discussions to move forward.
KMKNO plans to continue to engage the youth and to create a short video on Mi’kmaq Citizenship in the near future. It is time for us to create awareness of the issue, as the decisions we make today, will affect future generations of Mi’kmaw. It is important that the discussions on what it means to be Mi’kmaq will include involvement from everyone in our communities. Please contact KMKNO at firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved and let us know what you think about this important issue.