CORNER BROOK - Prime Minister Stephen Harper could be in Stephenville this week to sign an historic agreement with the province's off-reserve Mi'kmaq people.
Gerry Byrne, the Liberal Commons member for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, said Wednesday the final details are apparently being worked out for an agreement between the federal Conservative government and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians to grant full aboriginal status to all the members of the nine Indian bands in the FNI.
Byrne said the signing could take place in Stephenville as early as Friday.
A federal government spokesperson told The Western Star Harper may be in western Newfoundland Friday afternoon and in eastern Newfoundland Friday evening. For security purposes, the PM's itinerary won't likely be confirmed until some time today.
Harper is expected to be present when Conservative MP Fabian Manning officially signs his nomination papers for the next election.
Byrne, who has been an advocate of granting full aboriginal status to off-reserve Newfoundland Mi'kmaq for more than four years, said he welled up with pride at hearing the news that decades of hard work given by so many people may finally be coming to a successful conclusion.
"In the spring of 2003, brand new in the job as the cabinet minister representing Newfoundland and Labrador, I made a pitch to my cabinet colleagues to enter into formal negotiations with the Mi'kmaq people of the island of Newfoundland," said Byrne. "I explained that theirs was a history of neglect and disrespect and I wanted to set the record straight. My request to bring full status recognition received the unanimous approval of my colleagues.
"Then I asked FNI president Brendan Sheppard to put his current court case against the federal government over the issue into abeyance while I brought the Mi'kmaq case forward through the halls of Parliament. He did that in good faith and our government appointed the Honourable Marc Lalonde to determine what formal recognition would entail."
Lalonde reported that the Mi'kmaq would agree to full aboriginal status being recognized under what is known as a landless band concept.
"In other words, no reserve would need to be established," added Byrne.
"The Mi'kmaq would not have to leave their current homes to move to a reserve, nor would non-aboriginals need to be moved off of a reserve territory. Community cohesion could be maintained. This was an important point that needed to be made because of the near seamless integration of the Mi'kmaq and non-aboriginal population in the band areas throughout the many decades of co-existence. "
With recognition will come significant economic, health, education and social benefits for the Mi'kmaq people through the federal government, Byrne noted.
"Total it all up and it will increase their funding and that of the province by $200 to $300 million over the next 10 years," he said. "When I received cabinet approval, I knew then that the deal was effectively done because if the FNI ever felt there was grounds to go back into court over a bad faith arrangement with the federal government, there is no question that the FNI would have won. That cabinet decision on the FNI was one that I am particularly proud of."
The FNI was established in 1972 to promote the social, cultural, economic and educational well being of the Mi'kmaq people of Newfoundland.
The FNI currently represent around 4,500 Mi'kmaqs located in nine bands, primarily in the central and western regions of the province.
The band councils are the Corner Brook Indian Band, Elmastogoeg Indian Band in Benoit's Cove, the Flat Bay Indian Band, the St. George's Indian Band, the Port au Port East Indian Band, the Indian Head First Nation, the Sple'tk First nations in Exploits, the Glenwood First Nations and the Gander Bay Indian Band.