APTN National News
Mi’kmaw leaders in Newfoundland say Indigenous people across the country should be watching as the controversial process for deciding membership in the Qalipu band unfolds.
The federal government is currently in the process of deciding who will maintain their status in the newly formed Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.
In 1949, the Newfoundland Premier Joey Smallwood infamously declared that there were no Indians on the island – by 2011, more than 100,000 people applied to become members of the Qalipu First Nation.
Qalipu member Blain Ford said getting back to his culture has made a difference.
“The culture’s been uplifting. It’s helped me. It’s made me who I am today. I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict for 28 years. So, the culture really saved my life to be honest,” said Ford.
But starting in 2013 more criteria was put in place by Ottawa to try and measure cultural identity.
See more stories here: Qalipu First Nation
The applications for membership were reviewed again.
“If you got your ancestry, you got your documents and everything all filled out and we proved who we are. Now they’re trying to prove who we’re not,” said Ford.
He, as well as many others, are waiting to learn if they can keep their Indian status. Those who can’t prove to have a Mi’kmaq community connection could lose their status.
“I really find that hard,” said Qalipu Chief Brendan Mitchell. “I have to say this: the government of Canada can say to a person five years ago, ‘congrats! You’re an Aboriginal person…oh sorry, give me your card back, you’re not an Indian anymore,’ or ‘you’re not a status Indian anymore’. I have a real big problem with that.”
Mitchell believes it was the cost of bringing 100,000 people into the Indian Act that motivated Canada to whittle down band membership.
“Maybe I should do this maybe I should generate a bill for everything that Aboriginal people, Mi’kmaq people in Newfoundland never got since 1949 because we got nothing until the formation of the Qalipu First Nation,” he said.
There are few, including the Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland, that think all 103,000 people who applied should get in. Mitchell said more than three quarters could be denied.
The issue is with how the enrollment process ties identity to geography.
“You cannot discriminate against someone because they moved for education or work to build a better life for themselves,” said Dave Wells with the Mi’kmaq First Nations of Assembly of Newfoundland.
In order to be a Qalipu member, a person has to live in either a Mi’kmaq community in Newfoundland, show they visited attended a pow wow, took a picture and saved receipts.
“All other Indian bands in Canada have the ability to move from one community to another. Nothing makes sense. They cannot make the piece fit the puzzle and it’s time for the chief of the Qa’lipu First Nation to stand up along with the council and say to the feds, ‘we do not accept this!’” said Wells.
But Indigenous affairs minister Carolyn Bennett has made it clear to Chief Mitchell.
“The response back to me was very clear and she said it to me three times in the letter. ‘We have an agreement in place done in good faith with the federation of Newfoundland Indians and the Government of Canada and we’re standing by it,’” explained Mitchell.
He isn’t prepared to put the future of the Qalipu in jeopardy.
“People need to understand it’s not just an easy thing to walk away and tell Canada to take a hike,” said Wells.
Other Mi’kmaq leaders have been skeptical of the high numbers of people wanting into the Qalipu First Nation while wary of what it could mean for them.
“If you add 100,000 extra people or 50k people, what does that do to our education?” said Jamie Battiste with the Mi’kmaq Treaty Education. “What does that do to health? What does that do to all of the problems that currently exist that we’re underfunded on?”
The fate of deciding who’s who of the Qalipu is in the hands of the federal government and its decision could impact Indigenous people across Canada.
“How do you think they’re going to deal with the Daniel’s decision and six hundred thousand Metis and non-status Indians in Canada? Saying, ‘I want to be status?’ Guess what they’re going to do,” asked Mitchell.
Within the Qalipu, the battle over band membership may go on for a long while.
“It’s going to cause a lot of rift between siblings,” said Qalipu member Paul Pike. “How one is in and one is not. Because when we started this it was all about family. And the supplemental agreement is all about where you live and when you signed your application.”
Ford said it feels like they’re being robbed or discriminated against, but he’s not giving up.
“I plan to keep going. Carded or not carded it’s not going to change me. A piece of plastic does not define who I am. L’nu Neuptjej. I’m Mi’kmaq forever,” said Ford.
Anyone who is rejected from the Qalipu band can appeal. Once that route is exhausted the Mi’kmaq there said the legal battle will begin.