Membertou Votes

Membertou First Nation goes to the polls to elect a new chief and council on Thursday, October 22.

There are only two candidates for chief — incumbent, Terrance Paul, who has held the office for 36 consecutive years, and challenger Edwin LaPorte — but there are 66 candidates vying for the 12 council seats.

This includes a number of incumbents, some of whom have, like the chief, served multiple terms. David Marshall, for example, has been on council for 31 years, Allister “Buster” Matthews, was first elected in 1984 and Lawrence Paul has served a total of 20 years.

The election edition of Aknutmaqn, the Membertou newsletter, includes information about 39 of the council candidates and both candidates for chief. Candidates were asked to submit letters within a required word length and their answers are ordered alphabetically by first name. I’ve read them all to get an idea of the kind of issues being raised in this campaign, but must add the caveat that some candidates didn’t respond to Aknutmaqn‘s request for contributions and some opted to use their space to introduce themselves rather than their platforms.

That said, one of the issues that was raised repeatedly was the need for housing — more specifically, apartments — for young, single adults. Sample comments:

I would love to see an apartment complex made here just for single people so they don’t have to jump couch to couch, wondering where they sleep tomorrow. — Calvin (Cal) Googoo

I feel we deserve a community where everyone has access to housing (including a strong voice for young single adults)…– Joey Sylvester

Apartments and single units for young/single people. — Julie Christmas

An urgent need for housing for single members should be addressed. — Michelle MacEwan

I would like to see an apartment complex for young adults and families displaced by unforeseen circumstances. — Paul Adams

Although we have built an incredible number of new homes, I realize we are in much need of more temporary housing to accommodate all living situations, as well as building units that can provide homes to those who fall outside of our current housing application process. — Paul Bradley Gould

Marcella Marshall lists “housing and homelessness” as a key platform point and Salena Sylvester includes “apartments” in her list of goals.

Chief Paul says if re-elected he is:

…committed to continue building more and more houses for Membertou. With feedback from our community, I will also focus on repairs and alternative forms of housing for Membertou.


Transparency & communication

Several candidates raised the issue of transparency and a greater voice for the broader community in council decisions:

…I strongly advocate transparency and open dialogue in all government and business. However, I see a lack of awareness and engagement amongst our people…Too often we only hear about corporate business via news and social media announcements. We deserve to know what deals are signed with out collective input. — Adam Edward Gould

I can’t express the importance of respectful communication and will make extra effort to ensure that our Elder[s’] and Youth[s’] valuable input is heard and respected. — Angela Paul

Implement an inclusive decision-making process, that involves community voice, on large scale community decisions. — Edwin LaPorte

More transparency between council and our community, in regards to huge decisions that affect us all. — Michelle MacEwan

Bernd Christmas also lists “transparency and communication” as a priority,


Child poverty

The 2019 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia (produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) said 51.5% of Membertou children live below the poverty line:

We have a crisis in our community right now. The focus of our leaders must be on our alarmingly high child poverty rates…We are praised nationally for our success in business, but how would these same people feel about a community where more than half the children live in poverty? — Dana Joe Sr.

There are families and individuals who have fallen through the cracks and deserve strong voices working together to champion their cause. We have to address the 51% child poverty rate head on! No child should worry about safety or food security. — Wendy Christmas


Women in politics

Given the gains made by women in this week’s municipal elections across the province, I was interested to see that (by my count) 22 women are running for council in Membertou and a couple of them made explicit reference to the need for more women in government:

We need more women on Council that will not shy away from tough decisions. — Julie Christmas

Women of Membertou have always been the glue that kept our families together…I believe Mi’kmaq women are the backbone of Membertou and more women should be on council…The real question should be, why aren’t there more women on council and when will Membertou have a woman as Chief? Currently, Chief & Council of Membertou have 3 women and 10 men. Women of Membertou make up 55% of the eligible voters of Membertou but only represent 23% of Membertou’s current Chief & Council. — Sheila Ginnish


Treaty rights

Another issue very much in the news right now is Treaty rights, as Indigenous fishers, tired of waiting for a definition of “moderate” from the federal government, have launched their “moderate livelihood” lobster fisheries in Nova Scotia.

(For a detailed account of the lobster fishery — including the role of Membertou First Nation — see the three-part series “Lobster Fishery at a Crossroads” by Lina Pannozzo and Joan Baxter in the Halifax Examiner.)

A few candidates addressed the subject of Treaty Rights and the fishery in their contributions to Aknutmaqn:

Recognition and affirmation of our inherent and treaty rights — Bernd Christmas

Maximize employment opportunities within our fishing industry. “From the trap to the plate.” 100% — Edwin LaPorte

I believe that our youth need to have an understanding of the value of our treaty rights, including the right to hunt, fish and harvest. — Joey Sylvester

Chief Paul didn’t actually mention Treaty Rights or the moderate livelihood fishery in his submission to Aknutmaqn (which, it’s time I mentioned, means “newspaper” in Mi’kmaq) but he made up for that on Monday night by releasing a Membertou Fishery update on Facebook during which he recapped the $25 million purchase of two offshore lobster licenses from Clearwater (announced in September) before declaring that Membertou was “currently in the process of working on a moderate livelihood management plan” that will include “input” from “community members.”

Membertou elections take place at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre in the Jenu room on Thursday, October 22 from 9:00AM to 8:00PM.