Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Chief Brendan Mitchell.
Fewer than a fifth of people who applied to become founding members of a unique Newfoundland aboriginal band have been accepted, raising anger about the many who were rejected.
More than 100,000 people applied, but the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada said Tuesday only 18,044 are eligible for founding membership in the Qalipu First Nation Band. In some cases, family members of successful applicants were apparently themselves rejected.
The band comes out of a 2008 agreement between Ottawa and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians to establish a landless band for Mi’kmaq in the province.
“Unfortunately, the goodwill that was created with the formation of the Qalipu First Nation in 2011 stands to be negatively impacted by these outcomes,” Qalipu Chief Brendan Mitchell said in a news release. “I’m concerned about the hurt and division these outcomes may cause among families and communities.”
A supplemental deal in 2013 set up an enrolment committee to assess “current and substantial” connections to the group after it was inundated with more than 100,000 applications — equivalent to almost one-fifth of the province’s population.
The department says roughly 10,000 applicants who were on the original founding members list did not meet the criteria under the 2013 agreement.
I’m concerned about the hurt and division these outcomes may cause among families and communities
“This is a complex process. It’s difficult in the sense that obviously some people won’t be happy with the results, but I think we need to look at the positives,” Fred Caron, ministerial special representative for the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, told reporters.
“The creation of the Qalipu First Nation is an important step forward for the Mi’kmaq people of Newfoundland. The Government of Canada and the (Federation of Newfoundland Indians) have worked hard to ensure a fair and equitable enrolment process which will uphold the integrity of the membership of the band and will result in a First Nation that will be the second largest in Canada.”
Caron said the main reason applicants were rejected was because they did not live in Newfoundland and could not demonstrate they still have a connection to Mi’kmaq communities.
That included providing evidence such as plane tickets and credit card bills.
Barry Wheeler of Summerside, N.L., said he was accepted as a founding member of the band. But Wheeler said he feels torn because a sister living in Ontario, who was on the original list of founding members, was rejected.
“Just look at the irony. We were created as a landless band, and now they’re looking at geography to determine who and who isn’t Mi’kmaq? It’s in our blood. It’s who we are as a people. It doesn’t change our ancestry… It’s discriminatory,” said Wheeler in a phone interview Tuesday.
Two other sisters and a brother haven’t heard about their applications yet, he said.
“Let me stand up and be counted and be proud of who I am for the first time and not have any cloud hanging over me.”
Caron noted that being rejected as a founding member does not mean an applicant cannot “exercise Mi’kmaq culture.”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with Mi’kmaq identity. It has to do with membership in the Qalipu Mi’kmaq band,” he said. “When the historic First Nations were created, the original founding membership lists were composed of the people who actually lived there.”
He said it is anticipated that 95 per cent of the membership will be made up of people living in the province.
The final list of the founding members will only be known after an appeal process, and when it is officially confirmed through an Order in Council, expected in the spring of 2018.