Wolastoqey Chiefs demand swift action on inquiry

FREDERICTON (Sep. 9, 2020) – The six Chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation are placing a 30-day count down on the next provincial government.

The Chiefs are calling on the party that forms the next provincial government to strike an Indigenous-led inquiry into systemic racism
within 30 days of the swearing-in. The action is being demanded regardless of who ends up in the premier’s seat.

After the election was called in August, the Wolastoqey nation circulated a 12-question survey, asking parties to provide insight into how they would approach First Nations’ priorities.

Ending systemic racism and the striking of an inquiry were leading questions in the survey. The six Wolastoqey chiefs have been leading advocates on both issues in recent months.

“We have brought these two vital issues to the feet of government. The time for talking and obfuscation is over. We are demanding action,” said Chief Ross Perley of the Tobique First Nation.

“Several months ago, we submitted to government a detailed plan on how an inquiry could proceed. We were asked, and we did our job. Now the next government has to adopt the plan. Thirty days is ample time to act.”

Three of the five main political parties in the province received a top grade after responding to the Wolastoqey survey on First Nations’ priorities.

The New Democrats, Liberals and Greens all received an A- as an average grade on their written submissions to the 12 questions.

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“There is definitely common ground if any of these three parties form government, or even play a role in another minority,’’ said Kingsclear Chief Gabriel Atwin. “We would welcome the opportunity to negotiate and resolve the issues detailed in our survey.’’

The Progressive Conservatives and the People’s Alliance failed to respond to the survey, despite numerous requests and reminders.

“The Progressive Conservatives and the People’s Alliance essentially formed a governing coalition over the last two years. It’s extremely discouraging that neither could muster even a basic “yes or no” to a dozen of our questions. We expected more,’’ said Madawaska Chief Patricia Bernard. “We
didn’t need a further demonstration of systemic bias.’’

The chiefs are calling upon leaders within the Progressive Conservative and People’s Alliance parties to reconsider their indifference to Indigenous issues.

“Blaine Higgs and Kris Austin have turned their backs to our concerns. They dismiss our calls for an Indigenous-led inquiry into systemic racism, and they downplay our claim to rights as a nation of people. Right now, we’re not getting an ounce of respect,’’ said Chief Tim Paul of the Woodstock First
Nation.

On the election campaign trail, all three parties on the political left – the Liberals, Greens and New Democrats – made solid commitments to an inquiry into systemic racism.

“We are heartened to see party leaders acknowledge that we need to shine a light on our system of justice,’’ said St. Mary’s Chief Allan Polchies Jr. “Recent events have proven that if we do nothing, tragedies will continue. Indigenous lives are at stake.

“Exposing injustices by way of inquiry takes time and effort, but it is the only way to get to the root cause of systemic racism.’’

Oromocto Chief Shelley Sabattis says Blaine Higgs and Kris Austin – the two party leaders on the right – are off side with the times we are living in.

“Across North America, marginalized people are making their voice heard. First Nations’ people in New Brunswick are no different. We are speaking out and we are being heard,’’ said Chief Sabattis. “Blaine Higgs and Kris Austin can pretend not to hear, but their way of thinking is rooted in the past. Asserting a basic human right is not to be negotiated, and certainly not to be dismissed.”

Media Contact: Megan Fullarton, 506-476-4385, megan.fullarton@wolastoqey.ca