October 22, 2021
Fredericton (GNB) – The New Brunswick Women’s Council is profoundly concerned by the memo issued by the Government of New Brunswick prohibiting its employees from making land acknowledgements that affirm that the territories of the Wolastoqiyik, Mi’gmaq, and Peskotomuhkatiyik are unceeded and unsurrendered. The council has advised government to withdraw the memo and prioritize establishing respectful working relationships that centre reconciliation with First Nations, First Nation communities, and Indigenous persons in New Brunswick.
The memo, issued and quickly leaked to the public on October 14, was addressed to all provincial employees, including the civil service, health sector, education sector, and Crown corporations. Council staff were included among the recipients. The memo provided an “ancestral acknowledgement” that employees may use and must read word-for-word.
“Land acknowledgements are important because settler colonialism in Canada was and is about land,” said council co-chair Myriam Mekni. “These acknowledgements compel non-Indigenous New Brunswickers to think about the land we are on and to name the Indigenous peoples who have, since time immemorial, been in relationship with and stewarded it.”
The council has advised government that the “ancestral acknowledgement” is not a viable substitute for land acknowledgements and is harmful. The text fails to acknowledge that the Wolastoqiyik, Mi’gmaq, and Peskotomuhkatiyik are modern peoples that non-Indigenous New Brunswickers are in an ongoing treaty relationship with.
“Our perspective is rooted in this truth: reconciliation is essential to the equality of Indigenous women, and Indigenous women’s equality is foundational to the equality of all women. There can be no equality for women in New Brunswick without reconciliation,” said council co-chair Jennifer Richard. “The Women’s Council has warned that the memo’s directives will seriously impede the ability of the civil service, Regional Health Authorities, hospitals, schools and public servants in moving toward reconciliation.”
The council also advised government that it is deeply worried about the safety and well-being of Indigenous GNB employees in the wake of the memo. The council recommended that government implement concrete supports for Indigenous employees and share those supports with the public as a matter of accountability.
The council also shared concerns that the memo indicates that government’s path forward on legal actions initiated by First Nation communities will not be grounded in reconciliation but will instead stoke fear of property dispossession in non-Indigenous New Brunswickers.
“Government must recognize and question its assumption that First Nations and First Nation communities want to simply reverse the current oppressive power dynamics on this land rather than transform them to the benefit of all,” said council executive director Beth Lyons. “If government continues down the path it is currently on, it will place all Indigenous persons in New Brunswick at risk of further marginalization and violence.”
The council also advised that government that it must adopt ways of working such as cultural humility and commit to an exploration of the land back movement.
The New Brunswick Women’s Council is an independent public advisory body on women’s equality issues.
Media contact: Beth Lyons, Executive Director, New Brunswick Women’s Council, 506-429-3948, [email protected]