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Mi’kmaq elder rejects McKenna’s assertion that ‘Skmagn-Fort Amherst’ represents reconciliation

Will Minister McKenna listen to Mi’kmaq elder Keptin John Joe Sark?

Mi’kmaq elder Keptin John Joe Sark rejects federal environment minister Catherine McKenna’s modifying the name of a national historic site in Prince Edward Island from Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst to Skmagn-Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst.

The CBC reports, “The site came under scrutiny in recent years following a re-examination of Jeffery Amherst, who the fort was named after. Mi’kmaq elders have raised questions about honouring Amherst, arguing he was an enemy of Indigenous people. Scholars had debated Amherst’s actions during his service until evidence was found he advocated the use of biological warfare, through smallpox blankets, to kill Indigenous peoples.”

That article adds, “Keptin John Joe Sark, a Mi’kmaq elder who has been advocating for years to remove Amherst’s name from the site, was not pleased with the decision to keep the original name in addition to the Mi’kmaq name. ‘I think it’s an insult and a disgrace to have a Mi’kmaq name sitting beside Gen. Amherst’s name because Gen. Amherst’s main intent was to exterminate the Indigenous people’, he said.”

And CTV has previously reported, “Author and Mi’kmaq advocate Daniel N. Paul said he supports Sark’s efforts. ‘Let’s put it this way, in the future I don’t think there should ever be anything named after people who committed what can be described as crimes against humanity. I don’t see why this should be any exception.'”

The Council of Canadians has been engaged in this issue for the past two years.

On February 19, 2016, Charlottetown-based Council of Canadians chairperson Leo Broderick wrote McKenna urging her to rename the historic site. More than a year later, in April 2017, Broderick received a reply from the Historic Sites and Monuments Board that stated, “The Board discussed the request at length and could not recommend that the historic place name of Fort Amherst be removed from the official name of the national historic site.” In May 2017, Broderick sent a second letter to McKenna asking her to reconsider that decision and remove the name Amherst from the site.

Last night, The Guardian reported, “Sark, a member of the Mi’kmaq Nation traditional government, has mounted a personal campaign to [change the name of the site]. Sark handed in his Order of PEI in protest of the province failing to push Parks Canada to remove the name of the military officer who wanted to kill aboriginal people with smallpox. Sark told The Guardian that adding a name isn’t enough, and that removing Amherst’s name altogether is what the Mi’kmaq people want. ‘It would be an insult to add a Mi’kmaq name to sit along that genocidal tyrant, Gen. Amherst.'”

While McKenna says her decision was made in the spirit of “reconciliation” and news reports have noted that the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of PEI, Abegweit First Nation Chief Brian Francis and Lennox Island First Nation Chief Matilda Ramjattan support the federal government’s position on this, Keptin Sark has commented on Facebook, “The chiefs say there were extensive community consultations, however if you speak to Mi’kmaq on and off the reserve, you will soon find out there were no community meetings held with the grassroots Mi’kmaq people to discuss this. The only meetings that took place were behind closed doors with the two Chiefs and the Confederacy.”

McKenna’s decision is also out of sync with municipal and university actions on this. The Canadian Press reports, “Montreal struck Amherst’s name from a city street last fall. Amherst College in Massachusetts said last year the British military commander would no longer appear in school communications or as an unofficial mascot.”

Keptin Sark, Broderick and others will be meeting with Liberal MP Sean Casey on March 7 in Charlottetown to discuss this issue.

To retweet our solidarity with Keptin Sark, please click here.

Further reading
Council of Canadians asks Catherine McKenna to remove the name ‘Amherst’ from historic site
WIN! Council of Canadians celebrates removal of Cornwallis statue from Halifax park