Pauline Rowsell, who spoke above Monday’s crowd a number of times to voice her displeasure, remained skeptical of band leaders and their council representatives as the federal government reviews the application process.
There are many concerns within the aboriginal community that such a review will end the likelihood of any progress being made on more than 70,000 applications for status yet to be processed. There is also worry of a decertification of those currently approved and amendments or changes to the enrollment rules.
The protest was held because of the dissatisfaction surrounding the lack of answers and communication from the council and staff.
“Every time (Chief) Brendan Sheppard is asked a question he will not answer it,” Rowsell said at the conclusion of the demonstration held in front of the band office building. “He is either rude or walks away.
“My opinion is that chief is not playing with my best interest. He is not for the people, and it is going to be my ambition to get him out of there.”
Federal Liberal MP Gerry Byrne, who has been at odds with Sheppard over this issue, took the lead over the rally following a prayer and song led by Keith Cormier.
Byrne says he has been approached by many people with concerns over the review and the lack of answers from the council and their chief. He said the people need to know their chief stands behind them.
In earlier media reports, Byrne said he asked Sheppard for a public meeting to provide the necessary answers and was told to mind his own business. Meanwhile, Sheppard accused Byrne of only trying to gain political points.
At the protest, Corner Brook ward councillor Brendan Mitchell interjected and offered his continued support to getting the people those answers. He also said he is committed to getting what is rightfully owed to all.
Mitchell applauded so many people for showing up at the protest, but said this should not be a protest against the Qalipu. He said the chief and council members have been working hard to get an extension on the process and put resources in place to improve or reduce the backlog of applications.
“We really should take our demonstration today to the steps of the federal building on Regent Square also,” he said.
But Mitchell was unable to answer many of the questions directed toward him, stating he did not know the answers. He invited Byrne into the band office to seek answers, where the MP had a discussion with Sheppard.
The chief said the applications yet to be processed will be safely stored until it is determined how they will be reviewed, and people will have to wait until that is decided.
“Brendan Sheppard doesn’t have the funding to carry on an enrollment committee process,” Sheppard said. “I don’t know if Mr. Byrne has it in the Opposition party, if there is funding available there. If it is, maybe it is something we can add to what we already have.”
The chief said there are no guarantees the remaining applications will be reviewed, and is waiting for word from the federal government on that. He also said the council is meeting on a regular basis with federal representatives on these issues.
Sheppard said Byrne could have come in to discuss these issues with him at any time, but that he was not interested in doing so Monday. Byrne said he was later “thrown out”of the office.