The Mi’kmaq flag was raised over campus last Thursday in anticipation of Nova Scotia’s Treaty Day on Oct. 1. Marking the beginning of Mi’kmaq History Month, the day was originally mandated by the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1752 for the Mi’kmaq and the British Empire to renew their “friendship and submissions.”
“The significance of the flag raising is to acknowledge the territory that we’re on, the Mi’kmaq territory,” said Doreen Richard, Mount Allison’s Indigenous affairs coordinator, who is Mi’kmaq. Mt. A is situated on traditional Mi’kmaq land, which remains unceded by any treaty.
Treaties between the Mi’kmaq and the British have only been recognized as legally binding since the Constitution Act of 1982. The first Treaty Day was celebrated in 1986. Prior to the Constitution Act, Canadian and Nova Scotian courts had been able to find a way around the rights guaranteed to the Mi’kmaq by several treaties.
Mt. A’s elder-in-residence Gilbert Sewell expressed the need for awareness about the history of the Tantramar region.
“You don’t even think about it,” Sewell said. “You don’t know what went on between the Mi’kmaq, the British and the French. It’s amazing what students don’t know. You’re going to university, and you don’t know a little information about the land around you. It’s amazing.”
Traditional drumming, singing and dancing accompanied the raising of the flag. Members of Millbrook First Nation near Truro, N.S., performed the ceremony as students, faculty, administrators and community members watched.
“It was a great celebration of music, culture and dance,” said Keith Nicholson, a second-year student studying international relations. “I think we should have a [Mi’kmaq] flag on campus at all times,” he said. “It’s important to recognize whose land this is. It’s important that we’re aware that everything we do reflects a legacy of colonialism and that it affects Indigenous peoples.”
This event was important given that Canada remains a settler-colonial state.
University President Robert Campbell was also present at the ceremony and later spoke to its significance for Mt. A.
“This is a tremendously proud moment for Mount Allison. One hopes that this is just one step in the transformation and indigenization of our campus,” Campbell said. “In ten years we won’t recognize this campus. We won’t recognize the programming, we won’t recognize the culture.”
Campbell cited indigenization as the most important social issue facing Canada right now.
“On one level, we have no choice, and I mean that in a very positive way,” he said. “Canada is not going to be a whole country, or a country at peace with its history, until we come to positive and accommodative relationships with Indigenous groups.”
Though the Mi’kmaq flag is still flying at the time of writing, Campbell confirmed that it would be coming down.
“There’s a whole series of flag raising events over the course of the year, and the last thing in the world we want to do is get into a competition for flag space. It will return to the Canadian flag. We’re a Canadian university.”