Let’s be honest. People like me – non- indigenous – are guests on this continent. Our predecessors’ treatment of our indigenous hosts over the centuries is nothing short of abominable.
Federal, provincial, and municipal governments have only recently begun to acknowledge this and are just now taking the first steps toward reconciliation. Atonement for centuries of repression, subjugation, and colonialism will take generations. As part of this process we have a moral obligation to enact legislation that – at the very least – gives indigenous peoples and First Nations communities a greater say in government.
The Cape Breton Regional Municipality has two key First Nations communities, Eskasoni and Membertou; neither of which have ever been guaranteed representation on CBRM council. CBRM, this community of communities, was developed over time on unceded Mi’kmaq territory. It stands to reason – especially now in the spirit of reconciliation – that CBRM council should create two permanent seats on council specifically intended for First Nations representation.
There are currently twelve polling districts in CBRM. District 3 is made up of many communities, including Eskasoni. Membertou is in District 5 – which also includes a large part of downtown Sydney. Under a new electoral map for 2024 (below), Eskasoni and Membertou would become two of CBRM’s twelve districts. The other communities in in the municipality would make up the remaining ten districts.
According to the Nova Scotia Utilities and Review Board 1., under normal circumstances the district boundaries are drawn so that all districts represent approximately the same populations – within a 10% variance. A 25% variance is allowable under “extraordinary” circumstance. When it comes to the state of our First Nations communities, however, circumstances are neither normal nor extraordinary.
Membertou and Eskasoni are significantly different from all other communities in CBRM in that they both have their own local band councils with a degree of local governance around issues such as housing, zoning, social services, and bylaws. Properties on reserve are not subject to CBRM’s residential or commercial property taxes – nor should they be. Because of their cultural distinctiveness, both of these communities should be represented on CBRM council by an individual who has an innate understanding of their constituents’ needs. Redrawing the boundaries of the CBRM polling districts will support the efforts of Eskasoni and Membertou First Nations in their pursuit of greater self-determination.
The window of opportunity to enact these changes is at hand. As per section 369 of the MGA (Municipal Governance Act), CBRM is required to review its municipal polling districts by the end of 2022. 2.
However, the MGA makes no allowance for such special circumstances. Under current legislation the application for these changes would be declined. Designating Eskasoni and Membertou as distinct First Nations polling districts will require the cooperation of Nova Scotia MLAs to table a bill which seeks to amend the MGA.
With the support of council, and in collaboration with provincial counterparts and First Nations leaders, CBRM could accomplish this precedent setting shift in governance – setting an example for municipalities throughout Nova Scotia, and taking another step toward reconciliation.
As councillor for CBRM District 3, if elected, I will work to ensure that these and similar collaborative changes are enacted to empower First Nations communities. I need your support in the upcoming election – I hope I can count on your vote.