Wolastoqey call for inquiry led by and focused on Indigenous peoples

FREDERICTON (Nov. 25, 2020) — The Wolastoqey Nation is calling on the Higgs government to immediately implement their previously submitted blueprint for an Indigenous-led Inquiry into systemic racism. The call comes after a newly appointed minister confirmed to media she would be launching a unilateral measure as early as this week to quell rising demands for action.

The six Chiefs of the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick issued the following statement:

“Last week Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn acknowledged that systematic racism exists in New Brunswick and said that something needs to be done about it. She said she plans to announce actions this week to address the racism faced not only by our people but by all ‘racialized’ people in New Brunswick.

“On their face the minister’s comments were encouraging. But no matter how well-intentioned these comments may be, they are misguided.

“Three hundred years ago, our people lived up and down the Wolastoq valley and throughout its watersheds. We were prosperous people living in a society that had thrived for thousands of years. Today many of our people are trapped in a cycle of generational poverty in a society governed by institutions designed to assimilate us and give the profits of our lands and waters to the Crown and people settled on our lands by the Crown without our consent.

“Other ‘racialized’ groups also face biases and discrimination in this province. Their histories, like ours, are complex. We share many of the same issues and are victims of the same oppressive systems. Together we stand in solidarity to fight against the same systems and the same injustice. As we always have, we continue to stand in support and solidarity with the fight of other ‘racialized’ groups against systemic racism. We echo their calls that the biases and discrimination they face should be addressed. However, while we may share similar issues and while some of our
histories may be interwoven, each of our histories is unique, and the challenges, biases, and discrimination we face are unique. There cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution to issues of systemic racism faced by ‘racialized’ people in New Brunswick. Our issues are very different and they must be addressed separately. Any process that lumps all ‘racialized’ people into one group of ‘others’ is in-and-of-itself a perfect example of systemic racism. How ironic it would be if this government were to act on its institutionally-racist instincts to launch a process allegedly meant to end racism!

“The inconsistency of the government is striking. One of the excuses they previously used to ignore our request for an inquiry was to suggest the federal government should look at these issues on a national level. We have unique institutions and unique instances of systemic racism in New Brunswick, so a national inquiry won’t get the job done. Similarly, Indigenous people in New Brunswick face unique challenges here just as other ‘racialized’ groups do. All of these experiences are important and the province owes its residents the respect of looking at these problems individually, not by lumping them together.

“When we met with Premier Higgs in July he said he wanted to address the challenges faced by our people. But he wanted a clear process and quick action. We wrote terms of reference that would have led to an interim report in 60 days and a final report in 6 months. He said that that was not fast enough. That was four-and-a-half months ago. If the Premier had acted on our request, the process would be nearly complete by now. Rather than an inquiry being a barrier to timely resolution of our challenges, it is the premier’s own inaction, indecision, and indifference that is slowing things down.

“We urge Premier Higgs and Minister Dunn to re-read our proposed terms of reference. We urge them to read the words in this statement and understand that the lived experience of Indigenous people is completely different than that of other communities to face racism. And we urge them to act quickly and appoint an independent, Indigenous-led inquiry as we have asked since June based on the terms of reference we gave them in early July. This is how to tackle systemic racism against Indigenous people in New Brunswick.”

Media Contact: Tim Porter, 506-461-0554, porter@porterobrien.com