While the mere mention of the word Qalipu, for many people, still conjures up thoughts of the challenges pertaining to the Mi’kmaq First Nation band’s controversial enrolment process, its chief says the members have moved on.
That was one of the messages Chief Brendan Sheppard put forth when the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band held its annual general assembly in Corner Brook Sunday.
About 125 people attended the assembly at the Pepsi Centre, just a fraction of the more than 23,000 members of the band.
Tens of thousands more have applied, but have not received acceptance.
Sheppard said the low percentage in attendance was due to the geographic distance over which members are spread, and the fact the annual report presented at the assembly was already online for members to read over.
“We don’t expect people to travel to the (annual general assembly) when they can read the report on our website and pose any questions to or office and get the answer they’re looking for,” said Sheppard.
“All in all, it was an excellent turnout with some good questions and keen interest in what Qalipu is doing.”
During the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to the report, the federal government paid out more than $10.2 million in non-insured health benefits on behalf of Qalipu members.
Meanwhile, the post-secondary student support program managed by Qalipu funded 777 students in a variety of programs to the tune of nearly $7 million.
“Some people consider Qalipu to be surrounded by the enrolment process,” Sheppard said, alluding to the disappointment felt by the thousands of people not approved for enrolment.
“That’s only one aspect of Qalipu. We’re an Indian Act band now and we’re working with the best interest and intentions of the members we have.”
That work includes an entire branch dedicated to creating employment and economic development opportunities for Qalipu members.
For instance, the band is working on an agreement with the Newfoundland and Labrador branch of Emera, the Nova Scotia company building the Maritime Link as part of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
“We have Emera opening their doors and wanting to speak to us and working towards an agreement to obtain employment opportunities and aboriginal businesspeople,” said Sheppard.
Qalipu members are also eligible to purchase big ticket items tax-free, though the law stipulates they must go to the Mi’kmaq reserve in Conne River to make such transactions. Some members have complained about having to do that, but Sheppard said not much can be done about it yet.
“This is not something we can change because it is legislation within the Indian Act and has to be there,” he said. “Maybe, somewhere down the road, some progress might be made to do something differently, but that remains to be seen.”
Sheppard said Qalipu is taking things slow as it tries to evolve into an entity that can maximize benefits and opportunities for its members.
“We just like to make sure we know what we’re doing by taking it one step at a time and reaching the goals we have in mind for our people,” he said.
“Right now, we’re focused on moving ahead with economic development and other programs, assisting members anywhere we can to advance their cause and make life a little better for them.”