by Jaime Battiste - KMKNO

The Indian Act has been around for more than 100 years and sections within it have slightly changed over the years because sections were inconsistent with evolving human rights in Canada. As time has passed it has become clear that sections in the Indian Act were inconsistent with the Constitutional rights that we have across Canada as First Nations. In a day and age when equality, acceptance, tolerance and reconciliation are building blocks moving forward between Canada and First Nations across the country, it has become necessary to look at how we define ourselves as Mi’kmaq. With current laws within the Indian Act that make determining who is a Mi’kmaq within the band system overly complicated with complex rules, has forced the KMKNO to look at a system to create and determine who is a Mi’kmaq citizen.

Many opinions exist as to what makes up a Mi’kmaq citizen. Key questions are surfacing as to who exactly is a Mi’kmaq citizen and what conditions makes one a citizen of the nation? Is it proven ancestry, blood quantum, residency, ability to speak language, and/or spousal relationship with a Mi’kmaq? What characteristics or core beliefs make this legitimate?

The Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative also known as Kwilmu’kw Maw Klusuaqn Negotiations Office (KMKNO) is interested in hearing the different views of the community members with regard to who should be included as Mi’kmaq citizens or beneficiaries of the Mi’kmaq nation. In the current negotiations between our leadership and the Federal and Provincial governments, KMKNO are often asked who is a Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia, and who makes up this membership, and what is the criteria? It has been the position of many Mi’kmaq leaders and academics that the right to determine who is a Mi’kmaq is not based on funding formulas of Aboriginal Affairs or bureaucrats in colonial governments, but rather is a constitutional right established by section 35 that recognize and affirm our inherent aboriginal and treaty rights.

Within citizenship/beneficiaries discussions, many issues continue to surface, such as how do Mi’kmaq balance the rights of an individual against the rights of the collective nation? With this question comes other related questions of what is more important: the right of an individual to belong to a community or the collective right to choose its own membership; even though these people do not share similar characteristics? To what extent does the greater good of a community to survive and flourish or the ability of that community to provide funding for its membership govern any definition of Mi’kmaq citizenship?

As KMKNO begin to address these questions, a standard practice is to look to how we have done membership in the past or how other nations establish citizenship. The problems associated with both practices however is the colonial government has been the standard practice during the years of the Indian Act and the ways of Mi’kmaq may be lost or buried in stories and ancient wisdom. The other problem is that other indigenous nations may be tainted with the same government agendas and or they may just do things differently. Do we turn to others or ourselves to say who is part of our Nation?

Mi’kmaq issues are both unique and similar as other nations, but do KMKNO want to look to what other Nations have done such as blood quantum? Do we begin to say that a person is more Mi’kmaq or less Mi’kmaq based on the amount of ancestral Mi’kmaq blood s/he may have? Do we say that being a full-blooded Mi’kmaq makes you more legitimate to the Mi’kmaq community than someone who has only some Mi’kmaq ancestry? Then comes the idea of whether living on or off reserve makes one more worthy of rights and benefits of Mi’kmaq or should residence matter at all as long as one is within the traditional 7 districts of Mi’kmaki, which has been called our traditional territory?

These challenges are filled with good arguments on both sides, and finding consensus on these issues is the intention of the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative Citizenship workplan, which is on-going within the communities. As the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples notes in Article 9 “Indigenous Peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right”.

The Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative will be asking Mi’kmaw people to take part in the discussions and dialogue on citizenship. It is our hope that each community will bring their diverse views and opinions to the debate in hopes that a draft discussion on the criteria of eligibility will be established for the leadership and community members to review. I look forward to hearing from the people their core values or responsibilities of Mi’kmaq in regards to being a Mi’kmaq Citizen. I hope to continue to communicate with the Mi’kmaq communities and hear more about what it means to Mi’kmaq. Wela’lioq

Jaime Battiste LL.B. Is a Mi’kmaq from Unamaki, who resides in Eskasoni with his son. He is published writer and researcher on Mi’kmaq history, culture, and law. He has sat on numerous committees and boards that have dealt with Education, Youth, Human Rights, and Governance, and is fluent in the Mi’kmaq language. He is currently under contract with the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative as a Citizenship Officer.

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