Interview with Saqmaw (Chief) Leroy Denny of Eskasoni, First Nation


Saqmaw Leroy Denny 

1.      What does Treaty day mean to you?

A lot of things.

First of all, it’s a renewal. A renewal of friendship and partnership. It’s important to the Mi’kmaq but also to everyone else to know that we had treaties that existing since the 1700s. To have that today means a lot because coming from, for example in 1929 when Gabriel Syliboy was charged and he said he had treaty rights, he was laughed at and he was humiliated in the court and he was told that those documents weren’t legitimate for court and that we were conquered people. When he passed away, he felt like he let his people down. But from that start, it raised awareness. A lot of things happened in the meantime, centralization and residential schools. Not long after another court case came 1980’s hunting case, Simon case, the sparrow case, the marshal case. The marshal case was the big one that changed a lot for our people. We got a moderate lively hood to fish and that really helped our treaty rights. The government said that was enough and to stop the fighting, and negotiated about treaty rights, so the courts finally recognized our treaty rights. The next title that is left to take to court is land title. That is still in the works. But coming from not having our treaty rights recognized, to winning court cases about having treaty rights and to where we are today and having treaty day every year, it reflects those who died who have fought for our rights. The new generation coming in are learning more and become more educated about treaty rights. Mi’kmaq people are being educated so they can’t be ridiculed anymore. It’s important to honor those treaty rights and Mi’kmaq shouldn’t feel like they don’t have treaty rights, they shouldn’t feel like they don’t belong to this land because they do belong to this land, it’s our land and we do have rights. Treaty day is very important to me anyways, because I grew up with that era and I can see the change happening.

2.      What are some ways to honor the Mi’kmaq flag?

The Mi’kmaq flag is our nations flag. It’s very important for people to know about the history of the flag so I think that more education is needed about why the flag is important to the Mi’kmaq people and how the Mi’kmaq people honor the colors of the flag. The veterans, those who fought for our land, fought for our country. It’s the same thing as any other nation and their flag, they honor their country. How important it is when we stand up and we honor the flag for example the national anthem. People have to remember that the Mi’kmaq people are a nation and just like any other country, when they stand up and honor their flag, we do the same. We have an honor song and it should be respected, and that is one way to do it. Stand up for the flag and sing the honor song to respect the Mi’kmaq flag. For the same reasons that any other nation honors and respects their flag, we need to do the same thing for the Mi’kmaq flag. The Mi’kmaq flag should be honored and respected at every university, and at every government institution.

3.      As a StFX alumni what is something your most proud of StFX doing?

As a StFX alumnus, I see a lot of changes. I was there in 2002 and there was a small group of us, and the resources were very minimal. I did what I could to promote my language and my songs, when I was there I did what I could to include the Mi’kmaq ways of beings and to incorporate Mi’kmaq ways of learning in the curriculum. Now there is more Mi’kmaq focused education in the curriculum, way more than there was when I was there. Now the Mi’kmaq flag is there and there are a lot of events in terms of Aboriginal students that connect the students and more students know about the Aboriginal students and becoming educated about our people. More Aboriginal students are going to StFX as well. There are a lot of positive changes that have been made and that makes me proud to be a StFX alumni. John Jerome was recognized as a Mi’kmaq scholar as well as many other Mi’kmaq scholars. And I know that a lot of Mi’kmaq students are doing their masters at StFX, do their thesis there and I like the fact that they let us be who we are when they’re there. They get a lot of support and there a big difference there from when I graduated

4.      What are your thoughts and feelings about bringing ceremony onto campus like a sweat lodge?

 I think that everyone should experience the sweat lodge especially during school. During a sweat lodge everyone is equal, there’s no color difference, there’s no power difference. We try to make one voice, one prayer a powerful one. It changes people even if they are non-Mi’kmaq. We welcome everyone into a sweat and we try to help people by praying. For example, at East Hants high school they were experiencing racism. Back in the day, Riverview had the same problem, the Mi’kmaq students there were experiencing racism and so now we have our own high school in Eskasoni and that has helped with the racism at Riverview. But in Riverview even though there’s a few Mi’kmaq students there now, there’s a few other ethnic groups that attend that school as well, the racial problems have declined. But every year, a large group of students go to Eskasoni and experience sweat lodge and sometimes they do it a couple times a year, they’ll go to rogers, they visit the Elders, they go to Rita Joe’s house, goat island and they learn treaty education. I think that’s why treaty education is so important. To give our allies have opportunities to learn about the Mi’kmaq, we should have ceremonies at school. Just like any other religion, the ceremonies must be respected. The wampum belt the first thing is a picture of a church and the window is open, the reason why the window is open to allow our culture in there. Just like how our sweat lodge door is open to everyone, everyone should experience it and they will not be disappointed. Our sweat lodge is meant for healing and to promote goodness. Not only is our sweat lodge meant for healing but so are other ceremonies such as the pipe ceremony. If StFX had these ceremonies on campus, more indigenous students would be drawn to StFX because of that. Every community has a sweat lodge and people that run the sweat lodge but a lot of students rely on the sweat lodge. During my studies at StFX I missed my home, my family, and my community so I would go to the church every day to pray. I needed to pray to function so I would go to the church and pray. It strengthened my spirituality and it’s important for the Mi’kmaq to pray every day, no matter which way. They should have a sweat lodge so the Mi’kmaq students and others can pray when they need to.