Mi’gmaq and Wolastoqiyik chiefs in New Brunswick are calling for the resignation of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn after she amended a house motion and removed the call for a public inquiry into systemic racism.
The house debated a Liberal motion endorsing a call for an inquiry into systemic racism in the justice system Thursday. Mi’gmaq, Wolastoqey and other Indigenous communities have been calling for such an inquiry since the deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi at the hands of police this summer.
During that debate Thursday, Dunn amended the motion to remove any reference to an inquiry, and reworded it to focus on tackling recommendations already made by previous studies. That motion later passed with the amendment.
“They gutted a motion calling for an inquiry, completely removing its purpose,” said Chief Ross Perley of Neqotkuk, or Tobique First Nation.
As a response to a request for interview, Dunn emailed a statement through a spokesperson. In it, she does not say whether or not she will resign. She said it’s “very unfortunate” that the First Nations Chiefs used the terms “gutted motion.”
“It is the first time in the history of the New Brunswick Legislature that the government has gone on record publicly acknowledging the existence of systemic racism,” she wrote. “The amendment I brought forward also binds us to undertaking the vital steps required to eliminate it in all its forms.”
Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Chief Bill Ward said he doesn’t understand why Dunn “would put out a statement like that.”
“She knows that it was gutted,” he said. “The intent of the entire motion was an inquiry. It wasn’t to recognize systemic racism, we all know it exists already. We wanted action on it, and that’s the appropriate action, and they took that away.”
Task forces ‘not equipped’ to tackle systemic racism
In a speech before proposing her amendment, Dunn said the government must be cautious about starting an inquiry without implementing already-made recommendations by other bodies.
“I would respectfully suggest that there are very good reasons to be cautious about pursuing the public-inquiry route without seriously considering why the numerous recommendations from a plethora of previous inquiries have never been implemented,” she said.
In her amendment she urged the government to continue consultation, and identify a plan to tackle systemic racism. She also urged the government to support the work of the All Nations/All Parties Working Group on Truth and Reconciliation.
We have lost confidence in the minister.– Bill Ward, Metepenagiag chief
On Friday the chiefs wrote they met with Dunn last week, and asserted that the need for an inquiry is separate from the need for action on past recommendations, because no reports adequately and specifically tackle racism in New Brunswick.
The chiefs said the work of the All Nations/All Parties Working Group of Truth and Reconciliation is “long overdue,” but the group “is not tasked with looking into systemic racism in New Brunswick, nor is it equipped to do so.”
They said the Blaine Higgs government has also not given them a “valid reason” for opposing an inquiry, except “their own failure” to act on the findings of other commissions.
“We have been clear and firm in our position—we need an inquiry. A task force, or working group, is not enough,” said Chief Shelley Sabbatis of Welamoktok or Oromocto First Nation.
In her statement, Dunn said the government is “going to take responsibility for analyzing and implementing recommendations from previous inquiries that are appropriate for New Brunswick.”
Premier Blaine Higgs stood by the minister Friday, saying the government will “get action” in six months or a year, as opposed to the two years it would take to have a public inquiry.
“The decision has been made. I am not going forward with the public inquiry. The minister is not going forward with a public inquiry,” he said.
He did not say what specific action the province plans to take, but said issues like inequitable housing “have to change.”
Ward said the relationship between the communities and the New Brunswick government has been “paternalistic,” where governments “think that they know what’s best for us.”
In the news release, Ward is quoted saying he will not meet with Dunn again.
“We have lost confidence in the minister,” Ward said. “As far as we are concerned, Dunn is done. … She should do the right thing and tender her resignation.”
In November, Dunn, who holds three other portfolios, called systemic racism a “cancer” during question period.
She also told reporters she was concerned that racism is “ingrained in a number of systems,” and is something she will try to “eradicate.”