PORT AU PORT WEST Chief Brendan Sheppard and ward councillors on the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band were conspicuous by their absence.
© Star photo by Frank Gale
Kenny (Moochie) Bennett of Stephenville Crossing addresses the Aboriginal forum as he calls for members to work with their ward councillors and be respectful.
At least that’s how Odelle Pike, moderator for an Aboriginal forum in Port au Port West, felt as she pointed out that not one member from the Qalipu band executive had showed up, despite invitations sent out to all.
The Aboriginal forum, held at Our Lady of Mercy Community Centre, was put together to give Aboriginal people and other concerned residents an opportunity to respond and share information on the Letter of Intent recently signed by Chief Brendan Sheppard with Black Spruce Exploration, a company that is believed to have an interest in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for oil on the Port au Port Peninsula.
Pike did note that she received several emails from band councillors from Central Newfoundland stating they could not attend and a phone call from a band councillor representing Corner Brook.
About 50 people attended the forum and Anne Hart, one of the organizers, was pleased with the turnout considering it hadn’t been as widely publicized as they had hoped.
“This forum is not about putting a hammer to people, it’s about sharing information with you and letting you know that to government, all the Mi’kmaq people have agreed to this (oil exploration) but we have not,” she said.
Hart said the executive of the Qalipu First Nation Band, before signing any letter of intent, should have consulted with members of the band.
“They (band executive) don’t have the right to act on our behalf without first consulting with members,” she said.
Hart said she was recently at a First Nations conference in Prince Edward Island and learned there that every province across Canada is challenged with similar situations that involve fracking.
Linda Wells of Stephenville Crossing said from doing some investigation she had learned that members of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq only have a few rights and one of them is to vote in an election.
She said other than that members have absolutely no say. She said while any ward councillor can be removed from the executive, it takes a three-quarter majority vote from the ward councillors.
“We have no protection and our only recourse is to email, phone or send letters to the councillors and hope they look at them. How do you contact them when they refuse to have meetings?” Wells asked.
She said she was completely shocked to learn this corporation has an annual membership assembly, but there is no way for members to have a say as there is not even a question and answer session.
Wells said on the fracking issue, the executive would choose to believe that everything is going to be okay with that but she said she will never be convinced it will be okay.
“Whose going to clean up the mess once it comes. Aboriginal elders are lying in the road in other provinces to stop fracking as they believe they have an obligation to protect the Earth,” she said.
Tianna Butler said band ward councillors, their neighbours and friends all need to be told that oil exploration is already taking place. She said people will listen, but you have to speak out.
Tami Park-Tighe said she lives on the Port au Port Peninsula and while she can’t prove there is any correlation, several moose returned to her property and the songbirds are back in this, the first year in about five years that there has been no drilling taking place on Shoal Point.
She said she’s willing to put a fight to prevent fracking from taking place.
Kenny (Moochie) Bennett said there needs to be strong support against this from the aboriginal people.
He is not advocating trying to witch hunt Chief Brendan Sheppard and ward councillors and suggested working with them to try to make them understand about the ill effects of fracking.
“I’m liking the respect that’s being shown here tonight and we don’t have to be disrespectful, but we need to finally speak up as people. Let’s have another meeting and get the word out,” Bennett said.
He said the people should represent themselves, but in a good way and try even harder to build bridges with their ward councillors even though they’re having difficulty reaching them right now.
Natalie Thomas of Save West Coast NL said Black Spruce Exploration has lots of money to work with and can promise the world but that there is nothing to hold them to it.
She offered encouragement to those at the meeting and said speaking out is important and that with a group of people, they can do a lot.
Hart said another forum would be held and in the meantime asked those in attendance to sign petitions that were distributed and to collect more names. The plan is to present the petitions to the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band and to government.