The Gespeg Micmac community’s quest for land
Manon Jeannotte is a representative of the Gespeg Micmac community, from Canada. The Gespeg Micmacs are a small group of about 700 members, half of them settled on the Gaspé Peninsula, in East Canada, and the other half in the region of Montreal. In 1973 they were formally recognized as an indigenous group, but were not allocated a reserve.
Manon was in Geneva to represent her community in a fellowship training program for French-speaking indigenous peoples organized by the UN Human Rights office. The four-week program is held annually to help people from indigenous communities promote and implement human rights and gives the representatives of indigenous peoples a better understanding of the UN system. This background will help them tackle the problems that their communities face.
The land owned by the Gespeg people is regarded as private property and not an indigenous reserve so the community receives less funds from the Government than other, similar communities. “Gespeg currently is negotiating with the Government and the Province about their autonomy”, says Manon.
Because the community does not have a territory, Canada’s federal government stopped funding for primary and secondary schools about six years ago. “They argued that the Gespeg Micmac did not correspond to their criteria”, explained Manon. The Gespeg Micmac community must send its children to mainstream schools where indigenous cultures and languages are not included in educational programs. Progress has been made however, as the history of Quebec’s indigenous peoples is now told in its school textbooks.
Education and land rights are amongst the key issues covered by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the General Assembly in 2007. Canada was one of four countries that voted against the Declaration, but last week the Government announced it “will take steps to endorse this aspirational document in a manner fully consistent with Canada’s Constitution and laws”.
On her return to Canada, Manon planned to train other indigenous communities based on what she learned from the fellowship program. She also hoped to contact former Quebec fellows from previous training programs to create an indigenous community network.
5 March 2010