Mi’kmaq assembly starts boosting membership with Corner Brook meeting

Gary Kean gkean@thewesternstar.com
Published on December 6, 2013
Hector Pearce, vice-chair of the Mi’kmaq First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland (MFNAN), addresses the hundreds of people gathered at a public meeting at the Pepsi Centre Thursday.

Star photo by Geraldine Brophy

CORNER BROOK  The Mi’kmaq First Nation Assembly of Newfoundland is hoping to boost its membership and got a good start on that during an information session held in Corner Brook Thursday night.

The assembly has been organized to fight the controversial enrolment process into the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band in light of the concern thousands of people will be denied membership in the band.

By the time Thursday’s meeting was to begin at 7 p.m., around 300 people had packed into a meeting room at the Pepsi Centre. Shortly after the meeting began, a wall dividing the civic centre’s meeting rooms was pulled back so the 100 or so people in an adjoining room could also see and hear what was being said.

Many of those in attendance signed up as new members of the assembly, formerly known as the Qalipu Watchdogs.

Hector Pearce, the assembly’s vice-chairperson, said he would like to see 10,000 out of the 105,000 or so total applicants involved in the enrolment process join the assembly’s efforts. So far, the assembly has 3,000 members.

“I’m not sure of the exact number yet, but we had dozens sign up here tonight,” said Pearce after addressing the crowd. “They were flocking to the registration table.”

When he spoke to the crowd, Pearce gave a rundown of the history of the process that led to the formation of the assembly and discussed its plans to fight the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to ensure every single applicant is treated in the same fashion.

The assembly contends that, because of the unexpectedly high number of applicants, the federal government will treat those who applied in the latter stages of the process differently in order to reduce the number of people who will be enrolled in the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band.

If there can’t be a political solution to the situation, the assembly plans to bring its fight to court.

“There’s no doubt this will end up in court,” Pearce said of his thoughts on the chances of it being resolved by dealing with government.

Pearce said the cause of the assembly is not really about getting aboriginal status, but more about the principle of being denied for unacceptable reasons.

“Membership now is not as important to me as principle,” he said. “I don’t like to be told I’m not something that I am.”

That particular comment drew a round of applause from the audience.

For that same principle, Pearce said the assembly should be getting support and not a cold shoulder from the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band. The assembly has received correspondence from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt, but Pearce said it has never had an email or phone call returned from the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band.

“The people that are presently members of the Qalipu and us right here in this room, we’re all the same: we have ancestors that were Mi’kmaq,” he said. “The Qalipu Mi’kmaq organization should be taking up our cause, they should be representing me, as well as people that have their status.”

There are people, noted Pearce, who have been accepted into the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band who have also joined the assembly because they believe other applicants are possibly being treated wrongly.

“I’m one of them,” exclaimed one man in the crowd.

Jerry Lavers, the assembly’s treasurer, took the floor after Pearce and instructed people how to go about joining the assembly through its website. He said the political solution in the long run could end up being the assembly negotiating recognition on its own merits with a future federal government.

“The more of us there are, the more of a force we are going to be to be reckoned with and the more political clout we’re going to have,” said Lavers. “Before the next federal election, you can expect this group to become very political and very supportive of whichever party in the federal playing field is going to support our objectives.”