“Let’s take it on”
Creating a community-based constitution in the Mi’kmaq community of Miawpukek
The journey of the Mi’kmaq from Miawpukek towards self-determination has been both long and short. Well before the Indian Act, the traditional form of government for the Mi’kmaq was built around the Sante’ Mawio’mi or the Grand Council of the Mi’kmaq. The members of the Sante’ Mawio’mi were influential and organized much of their political discourse within the districts. In Miawpukek, the current Chief, Misel Joe, who is also a member of the Sante’ Mawio’mi, recalls the work of a community member, Joe Lewis, who was considered a messenger for the Sante’ Mawio’mi. Joe Lewis would often be absent from the community travelling to the far end of the Mi’kmaq Nation to communicate with members of the Nation and obtain information about matters of political importance.
More recently, a very significant event occurred in June 28, 1984. After much effort by many community members, the Mi’kmaq of Miawpukek were recognized by the federal government as a Band under the Indian Act; they later came to be known as the “Miawpukek Mi’Kamawey Mawio’mi” or Miawpukek Band. Since becoming a Band, the leadership has worked ceaselessly to expand its jurisdiction over its lands and resources. It now exercises local control over band administration, membership, elections, schools and on-reserve lands. These undertakings were transformative and the community has acquired the skills and capacity to effectively govern its own affairs. The community is now considering how it might entrench its rights to self-determination in a community-based constitution.
NCFNG was approached in 2008 to help the community create the Miawpukek Constitution, and over the past year we facilitated six working sessions with the Miawpukek Constitution Committee under the NCFNG Constitution Development Program. During the working sessions, committee members explored other indigenous forms of government and their constituting documents. Some of the most compelling work of the committee was on the preamble to the new constitution. The preamble incorporates the shared values and fundamental principles of good governance from a Mi’kmaq worldview with the expectation that these values and principles will be imbued into every article of the new constitution. The committee recommended that much of the existing government structure be affirmed as their constitutionally prescribed form of government. The committee also felt it was important to have many more consultations with the community on its justice systems.
The process has been successful. The collective view of the committee on how it should proceed after completing the NCFNG Constitution Development Program is best expressed by a statement from one committee member when asked how she feels about developing a community-based constitution. Her response: “… let’s take it on….”