The Mi’kmaq First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland hopes its first annual general meeting will help keep the momentum going in its fight for equal treatment from the federal government.
The assembly was incorporated in May 2013, borne out of the frustration that boiled over during the enrolment process for the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band.
More than 12,000 people, most of whom feel they have been wrongly excluded from enrolment, have registered for membership with the assembly. A little more than 200 of them were at the inaugural annual general meeting held at the Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook Saturday.
Don Loder now lives in Ontario, but his family is from Summerside in the Bay of Islands. He was appointed the chairperson of the assembly when it was formed last year. There was no election of a new board at Saturday’s meeting as the assembly’s constitution calls for the board to remain at the helm until elections are held in another year or two.
Initial indications were that maybe 100 to 120 people would be attending the meeting. While the numbers that did show up were surprisingly more than that, Loder hopes the next meeting will draw a higher percentage of the membership, which is strewn all over the map geographically.
Those who were there generally supported the direction the assembly has been taking and agreed with continued efforts to increase membership and to hold more community metings throughout the year to keep everyone updated.
The assembly is looking at opening an office with a full-time employee in Corner Brook to help facilitate meetings and get the group’s message out to members.
The assembly is still waiting for a judicial review of the federal government’s decisions regarding the Qalipu enrolment process. Since that review process was initiated, the federal government enacted new legislation that effectively prevents groups like the Mi’kmaq First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland from suing the government about its decisions regarding Qalipu.
Loder said the battle will continue on both the legal and political front, despite the assembly’s constant difficulty in trying to get the attention of government leaders, provincially or federally.
“It’s been impossible,” he said. “We’ve sent letters out trying to get communication going and nothing ever comes back. Government doesn’t want anything to do with us. They basically just turn their backs and walk away.
“We’re not giving up by any stretch, but it’s like trying to pull a nail out of a board with your teeth.”
With elections on the horizon on both the provincial and federal fronts, Loder hopes the assembly’s voice will soon have to be listened to by those seeking office.
The assembly is convinced the Qalipu enrolment process was flawed and the federal government needs to fix it in an equitable manner. For instance, some of the people denied membership in Qalipu have immediate family who have been accepted.
“It’s to a point where I’m not sure it will pull families apart, but it’s questionable how can one person in a family can be a native and the other not,” he said.
“It makes no sense and it should be corrected.”