Making a clean break from the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band is no longer just an option the Indigenous community in Flat Bay is merely considering.
In a social media post Saturday, Flat Bay Chief Liz Lasaga said the time has come to start moving toward separating from the newer and controversial Qalipu band.
Emphasizing it is not the leadership or the services being provided by Qalipu that she is concerned about, Lasaga said the much-beleaguered Qalipu enrolment process is what her band’s members are finding worrisome.
In her post, in which she praises Qalipu Chief Brendan Mitchell’s efforts to fight the mess, she described the enrolment process as illegitimate and embarrassing.
Feeling the Qalipu band is destined to eventually crumble under the weight of its own enrolment problems, Lasaga said removing themselves from Qalipu is in the best interest of the roughly 1,000 people represented by the Flat Bay Band Inc.
Lasaga had stated publicly last year that Flat Bay was considering separation from Qalipu as an option. Now that the appeal portion of the enrolment process, which has resulted in mostly denials, is nearing an end, Lasaga said it is time to begin that separation process.
“We couldn’t decide to do this until the enrolment process was over and that is getting close now,” she said in an interview Monday.
The Flat Bay band takes in residents of the St. George’s Bay communities of Flat Bay East, Flat Bay West and St. Teresa — which Lasaga said is made up of about 99 per cent people of Mi’kmaq heritage. The band also has members originally from the area but who now live elsewhere in the world.
Some, but certainly not all, of them were successful in becoming part of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band.
The decision to separate has been made by the chief and the band’s self-governance committee, but Lasaga said they will look for the support of everyone in the band and will have public meetings to that end.
She also plans to meet soon with Gudie Hutchings, the Liberal MP for Long Range Mountains, to discuss the federal government’s appetite to deal with a group that feels the need to splinter off from the landless Qalipu band.
The Flat Bay band is considered one of the forces that helped establish the Mi’kmaq reserve at Conne River in 1987 and forge the path toward what eventually led to the establishment of Qalipu, though that result did not pan out as many of its members had hoped it would.
The Flat Bay Band Inc., much like a not-for-profit organization, applies to government sources for help maintaining public services to its community, but has no core funding. It has been seeking a better agreement with the federal government for nearly 50 years.
Lasaga said now that it is obvious to her members that Qalipu is not the answer for them, separating is the next step in the natural progression of the band.
The chief emphasized the move is not just about finding a better way for the Flat Bay band members only.
“When Qalipu falls apart, which it will, and if we didn’t separate, then we will be part of this non-credible situation,” she said. “If we separate, at least then there would still be at least one credible band, besides Conne River, with a legitimate membership that can fight and be a voice for all the people that will be affected.”
As part of the strategy, the Flat Bay Band Inc. will ask the federal government for its prorated portion of funds to administer status-related programs to its members.
Lasaga says it will be a long and tough battle to get the federal government to consider a new agreement for the Flat Bay band, especially after the contention caused by the Qalipu enrolment process.
“It’s a process that we need to move through,” she said. “It’s not anything that’s going to happen tomorrow.”
In fact, Lasaga said it could take years to work this out, if the government is willing to consider it.
She is steadfastly confident it can be done.
“For me, personally, I don’t think we’re going to have that much of an issue through the government process,” she said. “I think the federal government is going to be supportive of us.”
In February, Flat Bay will hire someone to go through its membership to determine who was granted status and who was not, so it can generate member profiles for the process that awaits them.