Ready to take a stand

Cory Hurley
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Byrne hosts meeting to tell "full story" of Qalipu membership applications

CORNER BROOK  If the review of the enrolment process of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band results in anything resembling unjust treatment, those who feel they are rightful Indians are preparing for a fight.

It was another massive crowd at the Pepsi Centre Thursday evening for a meeting to discuss the band and its tumultuous progression toward approving membership. This time it was called by Liberal Commons member Gerry Byrne, who was attempting to pass along “the full story.”

With about 70,000 applications for enrolment on hold as the federal government undergoes a review of the process, there has been much concern about changes to the enrolment process affecting those applicants. There is also fear changes could decertify those already approved.

Byrne broke down the original agreement Thursday night, weighing what was signed against the statements made by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt, and members of his department, and band council Chief Brendan Sheppard. The Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte member said the blame has been placed upon the applicants, because there is nowhere else for them to turn.

He suggested he has “busted” any of the explanations or excuses provided by government officials and Sheppard as to why there is a review of the process.

“Everybody was so happy when the prime minister (Stephen Harper) came down in 2007 and signed this agreement,” Byrne said. “Everybody knew what was in this agreement. It is time to break this myth that this agreement was a secret. Everything in this agreement was made as plain as the nose on everybody’s face.”

The fact there was no blood quantum, residency was not required, self-identification was done through signing the application, according to Byrne, was done to be reflective of the realities of the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq situation. It was designed that way purposefully, he said.

“Now, people are saying the consequence of that is we are going to have probably 80,000 members,” he said. “And that’s not fair or not good enough or not what we intended. Yes, it is. There’s a contract signed.”

Byrne said the agreement reflects proud Mi’kmaq people — one of whom he said he is. He said it wasn’t for land rights or benefits, but recognition of who they are as a people.

Erica Lavers stood before the crowd and echoed those sentiments later in the evening. She said she is sick and tired of hearing that people — who have gone out of their way to extensively research their history, file the tedious application, and now fight for what is rightfully theirs — are only for the financial benefits.

“If that’s what it was all about, I would have said to hell with it a long time ago,” she said. “It’s not worth that much to me. But, it is worth that much to me to know my heritage, and to be proud of who I am.”

Linda Wells told the audience that having her status has entitled her to no more rights than anybody who is still waiting. She said they have voting rights, but they get no information on meetings.

“Card-carrying members can’t speak for you, because we cannot even speak for ourselves,” she said. “We have no rights in this band. They are supposed to represent us, but they are not doing that.”

Meanwhile, Dave Callahan said Mi’kmaq elder Calvin White, who received much praise at the meeting for progressing the movement to where it is today, warned everybody the agreement shouldn’t be signed. He said the problem started when they were deemed landless, and said the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the federal government set the band up for failure from the beginning.

“People heard about dentist bills getting paid, they heard about some money that they might get their hands on to send their kids to school,” he said. “They didn’t know they were going to be considered a second-rate, lower-tiered native than the rest of Canada.”

Byrne said it is time for government and the band council to end the secrecy. He said the options to pursue the answers they are looking for are through government, the band council, and the courts — and he hopes it doesn’t have to come down to the court.

He also said there can be no changes to the original agreement without the approval of the general membership.

Twitter: WS_CoryHurley

Organizations: Pepsi Centre, Liberal Commons, Federation of Newfoundland

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Eli
    May 24, 2013 - 14:36

    OBSERVER has it right. It's ALL about money!

  • doug
    May 20, 2013 - 09:59


    • BoB
      May 21, 2013 - 08:32

      You got turned down too eh Doug?

  • A. Aguathuna
    May 19, 2013 - 19:29

    The Newfoundland Metis concept is wrongheaded and attracts the 'free lunch' crowd who see government benefits coming to them in perpetuity paid for by other people's money. The Newfoundland Metis claimants are landless, of course, since they migrated east across the Cabot Strait with their French allies and have far less time punched in this province than do my Bonavista Bay ancestors who chased the cod for at least a century before the latecomers from Cape Breton.

  • Paul
    May 18, 2013 - 05:55

    I am from a family of 11 children from which 10 have status and i do not. For me it is not money that is the problem but the way the governments have denied the rights we should have had. Our past has been denied and that is a shameful thing. I've payed hundreds of tousands of dollars in taxes in my life and the government dosn't mind that. There is no doubt about my heritage which has been established but as for status i have been denied because of a piece of paper. That is just the way governments have been doing it since they stopped slaughtering the native people.

    • doug
      May 26, 2013 - 10:40

      Re: paul rect If I am correct the Qalipu Mi’kmaq were brought in to track and kill the beothuck?, no?, not even native to the island, what a joke!......

  • Tree Legs
    May 17, 2013 - 20:48

    Kudos Gerry Byrne 80,000 or 100,000 or 5000 what difference do it make? Native or not?? This is the question. In 1949 Joe Smallwood claimed there were no natives left in Newfoundland and every citizen had a right to vote in the referendum which, by the way, favored Canada by about 2% - 51% for - 49% against In legal terms natives did not have a right to vote then so: 1. Was the referendum legal? 2. Natives were denied their recognition as bestowed on other first nations Canadians. In the original terms of union the sections dealing with first nations rights are actually blacked out ( a big help to Joe Smallwood to get an extra percent or so) There two factors are the reason for self declaration. After all if the other natives were exterminated one would be somewhat shy to advertise their heritage. This FACT makes it difficult to trace ones bloodline from official record. I agree with CAlvin White on the land issue, why should the Newfoundland first nations peoples give up what other first nations embraced? However a contract is a contract. I began to think Chief Sheppard had some honour but to turn his back on the negotiated contract and his own people is SMALL and SELF SERVING SPEAK UP COUNCILORS AND CHEIFS

  • Observer
    May 17, 2013 - 18:31

    It is interesting to hear 'status' people talk about how it isn't about the money, advantages, but only about their 'culture'/. That is almost too foolish to talk about. The interest in becoming an 'Indian' in Newfoundland and Labrador came about when the lazy Joe or Bob sat at the local coffee shop and bragged about his trip to Conne River where he saved three or four thousand dollars on his new Dodge Ram; the interest came about when the ladies started talking about handing in their 'card' for their drugs, receiving all dental work for free, getting 'free' education for their grandchildren and the list goes on and on. I know it's not 'free'. It's just that the expenses has been passed on to the poor fellow across the street who can't trace his roots back to some cabin in by some pond in the early 1900s or so. Now he's stuck with the bill for all those blue-eyed blond 'Indians' driving those fancy trucks and getting everything paid for. So don't go telling me people are interested in their culture. They can smell a handout and that's why we now have 80-100 thousand applications --because of the MONEY. If there was no money available for 'status' most people wouldn't admit they had 'indian' blood. It just wouldn't be talked about at all. But with the benefits, they're coming out of the woodwork. It's an insult to those who can't trace their ancestry because they 're the ones who is stuck with the cost of all those handouts. That's my view, at least.

  • Reality
    May 17, 2013 - 14:59

    Ms Lavers, how are you so absolutely blind to the fact that this is more about money than anything? If it were truly about your heritage you wouldn't care if you had a card stating you were a member of this band. “Now, people are saying the consequence of that is we are going to have probably 80,000 members,” he said. “And that’s not fair or not good enough or not what we intended. Yes, it is. There’s a contract signed.”... So a group of close to 10,000 signs a contract and the government is legitimetaly supposed to to expect 80,000-100,000 applicants. Completely ignorant comment. Also, the applicants who claim there are no financial advantages. Are you kidding me? The amount of taxes lost from vehicle purchases alone is ridiculous. Having attended post secondary institutions in the past where I am the sole person out of a class of 15 that didn't have my education paid for by the public because of my "culture", I know the difference. I'm still paying off my loan.