WE’KOQMA’Q FIRST NATION: The chief of a local First Nations band says her council is actively pursuing a land claim with the neighbours in the village of Whycocomagh.
Chief Annie Bernard-Daisley, who was recently elected as the first female chief of We’koqma’q First Nation said their land claim has been a top priority for their community members for years, and was the hot topic of discussion at a recent community meeting held on November 4.
“Back when we were forced onto reservations in the 1800s, a part of our land which is now situated in the village of Whycocomagh was taken over by settlers and they squatted on that land,” Chief Bernard-Daisley told The Reporter. “For two-hours we discussed land claims and I let them go because it was the first time they were able to ask questions instead of living in a land of myth.”
Hosting a community public meeting acted as a direct means of communication between the council and their community members which allowed them for the first time to ask questions and voice what they knew about the land claim issue, she said.
“We now have the oldest, legitimate land claim east of Montreal which was established to be legitimate in 1982,” Chief Bernard-Daisley said. “Since 1982, at some points, this has been shelved for whatever reasons and it just became a dust collector at times.”
She said about six-years-ago the band switched lawyers and their lawyer, Bryna Hatt, has been actively pursuing this claim. Their counsel is calculating the loss of use of the land – after getting it accepted to being part of the equation.
“You’re looking at the loss of the water, where at that time and point in period in what we’re talking about the village of Whycocomagh was one of the major ports in Unamaki [Cape Breton],” Chief Bernard-Daisley said. “There’s a lot that we have lost with the loss of use of this land, from the potential use of it, to the fact that our community is running out of land itself; we’re growing at a capacity and our land base is so small.”
The village of Whycocomagh is full of great people and they are wonderful neighbours, the chief noted.
“It’s not their fault this happened, they didn’t settle the land in the 1800s, they’re just the benefactors as we are to what’s happened since colonization,” Chief Bernard-Daisley said. “But the fact remains that is our land. The Mi’kmaq community of We’koqma’q First Nation owns that land 100 per cent.”
She wants to make sure the Government of Canada completely puts their effort into moving forward on this claim – like the band is, pointing out the government switched negotiators four times from 2014 to 2016.
Negotiations are “active” according to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada with We’koqma’q First Nation is seeking a reach a settlement and acquire proper title to the land.
Chief Bernard-Daisley also highlighted another significant issue that when things are serviced on reserve land, they don’t pay tax, but when on land outside reserves, her constituents still have to pay tax.
“I’m going to call them out, they need to remove the taxation that’s going on in their facilities,” she said. “Because it’s not right, it’s a hard bitter pill for our community members to swallow every time they have to pay tax there.”
That land is the band’s land and their chief suggested a good step towards reconciliation would be to remove the tax – at least, she said, that would show them the government is trying to reconcile with their community.
“Let’s move towards a peaceful resolution,” Chief Bernard-Daisley said. “I want to work alongside the Government of Canada and keep them on their toes pursuing this.”
She added the community will ultimately have the final decision in how their settlement is distributed.