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Issues caused by imposed relocation to Eskasoni continue to reverberate: MMIWG final report

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A red dress symbolizing missing and murdered Indigenous women hung from a stop sign as a solemn group of about 70 people walked toward Cassidy Bernard’s hometown of We’kmoa’q on Dec. 1, 2018. – Erin Pottie SYDNEY — Poverty, overcrowded housing and women placed in vulnerable positions are among […]


A red dress symbolizing missing and murdered Indigenous women hung from a stop sign as a solemn group of about 70 people walked toward Cassidy Bernard’s hometown of We’kmoa’q on Dec. 1. Bernard was found dead in her First Nation home on Oct. 24. RCMP continue to investigate her death.
A red dress symbolizing missing and murdered Indigenous women hung from a stop sign as a solemn group of about 70 people walked toward Cassidy Bernard’s hometown of We’kmoa’q on Dec. 1, 2018. - Erin Pottie

SYDNEY — Poverty, overcrowded housing and women placed in vulnerable positions are among the legacies stemming from the imposed relocation and centralization of smaller Indigenous reserves to larger communities such as Eskasoni, the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has found.
The final report issued Monday includes a section exploring the case of Eskasoni, in relation to First Nations relocations. In Eskasoni, the centralization undertaken in the 1940s was intended to cut the administrative costs of providing government services to First Nations people, the report states.
“Many of the challenges engendered by centralization continue to haunt communities like Eskasoni today, and directly contribute to placing Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual) people in danger in these communities,” the report states. “But the issues go beyond interpersonal violence to engage colonization, institutional inaction, and ongoing social, economic, and political marginalization that reinforces, rather than addresses, these barriers to basic human rights.”
There were about 40 smaller Mi’kmaq communities in Nova Scotia by that time and as government costs associated with supporting them began to rise, an Indian agent eventually proposed centralizing the Mi’kmaq into two communities: Eskasoni on Cape Breton and Shubenacadie on the mainland.
Eskasoni as a community was first charted by the surveyor general in 1832, and two years later it became a reserve, the report states. The centralization to Eskasoni began in 1942.
The report states that the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples noted, “relocation affected the life of the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia more than any other post-Confederation event, and its social, economic, and political effects are still felt today.”
Post-relocation conditions at both Eskasoni and Shubenacadie are described as overcrowded and unsafe, in many cases. The report notes that while Indian Affairs had promised new homes, jobs, better schooling and improved medical services, they didn’t materialize for many people, with only 10 houses being built on each of the reserves by 1944. Many wanting to return to their home communities were unable to do so, as documents show that some Indian agents would destroy their homes once they were relocated to Eskasoni.
The report references the situation of Marie Battiste, whose parents moved in with her mother’s cousin, the two families including eight children sharing a home.
Much of the housing that was there was uninsulated or without interiors.
The administrative savings weren’t realized and poor decision-making by officials foiled efforts to expand agriculture.
“For women who had worked to manage their small-scale but successful farms prior to relocation, or who had participated in seasonal berry harvesting in Maine, the relocation also placed them in a vulnerable position,” the report states. “Dependent on their partner’s wage labour, or on government assistance, many women were forced into unsafe situations created by government intervention.”
Among the current-day problems faced by Eskasoni outlined in the final report are incidents of harassment faced by young women in the community, with a recent rise in drug and sex trafficking cited as among possible factors behind it. Housing issues also continue to place women in vulnerable positions, it notes, with few options available for those forced to find new lodging.
It also raises the issue of youth suicide and drug and alcohol-related deaths and their effects on the close-knit community. Income levels also remain low, with a 2016 report stating the child poverty rate for Eskasoni was as high as 75.6 per cent.

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