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Military veteran who grew up in Millbrook questions band exclusion

A photo of Muriel Barr hangs on Willow Street at the Millbrook First Nation in honour of Barr’s service with the Canadian Forces. 
(FRANCIS CAMPBELL /The Chronicle Herald)
A photo of Muriel Barr hangs on Willow Street at the Millbrook First Nation in honour of Barr’s service with the Canadian Forces. (FRANCIS CAMPBELL /The Chronicle Herald)

You can’t go home again.

That’s Muriel Barr’s relationship with the Millbrook First Nation in Colchester County.

“I can’t come back there,” Barr, 83, said Friday in a tone that betrayed quiet resignation rather than anger or disappointment.

Barr grew up in Millbrook, married a local man and lived there until about age 30. She worked at the Camp Hill hospital in Halifax and later joined the Royal Canadian Air Force.

After she divorced, Barr, whose maiden name was Gloade, moved to New Jersey where her brother was living. She got a full-time job, married again to a non-native and had a daughter, Tracy.

Her husband died in 1982. After retiring at the turn of the century, Barr moved back to Canada, eventually settling in Truro, where she shares an apartment with her daughter.

Barr said her first husband grew up in Millbrook but his father was from the Eel Ground First Nation along the Miramichi River in New Brusnwick.

“When we divorced, he got back into the reserve here and, of course, nobody bothered with me.

“I didn’t think I would come back. I am not going to look for another husband, let’s face it, just because I want to stay in Millbrook,” Barr added with a laugh. “Forget that.”

Barr said she still has Indian status under the Indian Act, as does her daughter. She said she is considered a member of the Eel Ground band because that was where her first husband was initially listed as a member.

“I never saw Eel Ground. That’s where my husband’s family were from. They were born and raised in Millbrook but his father was from the Miramichi River (area).”

Shelly Martin, a lawyer for the Millbrook band, picks up the story there.

“You can have Indian status but you may not be assigned membership with a band,” Martin said. “It’s possible you can be reinstated to Indian status in Canada but not be assigned to a band.”

Barr’s situation is different than the recent push by Indigenous women and a feminist alliance to have the federal government accept a Senate amendment of legislation on sex-based discrimination under the Indian Act.

Martin explains that when Bill C-31, an amendment to the Indian Act, was passed in 1985, bands were given the option to adopt their own membership code to determine who could be accepted as a band member. Millbrook did not do that and relies on the Indian Act to determine transfer of membership from another band.

“It’s a vote that takes place every five years,” Martin said. “This is separate from status altogether. It is very complicated.

“I would be careful about characterizing it as the band not permitting somebody to come back. I certainly would not want to attribute that to chief and council because it is a community vote in the end. The community has the ability to say yea or no.”

The community said no to Barr a few years back.

“They have to vote you in, in an election,” Barr said. “Who’s going to vote for a name that they don’t recognize? Let’s face it, it’s about three generations since I was known here.”

But a few of the women she meets weekly have told her that she’s getting in this time. If not, Barr harbours no ill will.

“No. How many years do I have to live? I have food, an apartment in town, pay for it myself and I’m proud of that. It just ticks me off. One way or the other it’s not going to affect me. I am thinking maybe of my daughter in the future.

“They (Millbrook residents) don’t know who I am.”

They could find out these days by looking up a power pole at the corner of Willett and Church streets, right across the street from the band administration building. Barr’s picture is on a poster on the pole, one of many service men and women honoured by the community.

Barr has a good American pension from her job in New Jersey and a small Canadian pension — $2,400 a year.

“I’m glad I’m not just getting that,” she said with a laugh. “I’d be thin, wouldn’t I?”

Out of principle, Barr puts her name on the list for a transfer but she doesn’t know when the next vote will come around.

“I think it’s whenever the moon is big or something. I don’t really care. I worked hard enough and I got a pension so I don’t really care.”

And she’s not sure what advantages would be afforded her by returning to the reserve.

“I don’t think they’d build me a house. That’s for younger ones with children. And I don’t want them putting me in a seniors’ home yet, heaven forbid, I’d run away.

“We have a roof over our heads and we have food on the table. That’s all that matters.”

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