Greg Janes never had the answers heading into a meeting he organized for fellow members of the Mi’kmaq community in Burgeo Wednesday evening.
Janes is among the 300 or so people from the small southwest coast town who claim to be of indigenous descent.
He is among those who have been rejected membership in the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band.
He is also among those seeking answers to the questions of why so many people have been denied the opportunity to express their ancestry through membership in Qalipu.
The frustrations mounted earlier this week when inclement weather prevented Janes and others from Burgeo attending the end-of-enrolment information session organized by Qalipu for Flat Bay.
Burgeo falls under the jurisdiction of the Flat Bay ward, which is represented on the Qalipu council by ward councillor Ben Bennett. The residents there, said Janes, think it’s unfair to have everyone travel the Burgeo highway for a meeting at any time in winter because that road is often treacherous during winter.
Janes, who has founded and chairs the Burgeo Qalipu Cultural Committee, is preparing a petition demanding that Bennett and Qalipu Chief Brendan Mitchell come to Burgeo to listen to the concerns of the Mi’kmaq people living in the area.
“People are distressed over what is happening and we need leadership,” Janes said Wednesday morning. “We are looking for answers and someone to tell us it’s going to be OK.”
Janes is an aboriginal recruiter with the Canadian Forces currently stationed in Halifax, and regularly organizes aboriginal events there.
He returns to his hometown regularly and plans to soon retire there.
His father, Lester Janes, was a prominent member of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians.
He is not concerned about receiving the government benefits promised to Qalipu members because his career has already taken care of him well in that regard. It’s the many people who have been relying on their status cards to obtain help with things like paying for prescription drugs that Janes is fighting for.
He believes the Qalipu council should do more to make sure the enrolment process was done fairly.
“It should be our band, our chief, leading our people,” said Janes. “It shouldn’t be me doing this, but the people here need some leadership right now and, if they think I can give it to them, then I will.”
Mitchell has publicly said he was disgusted by the outcome of the enrolment process, which saw more than 10,000 people on the Qalipu founding members list get letters advising them that they have been denied membership.
Tens of thousands more who were not on the list have also been denied membership.
“Of course it’s disappointing, chief, but what are you now going to do about it for us?” asked Janes.
There has been some talk about the possibility of extending the deadline to appeal declined enrolments. There is also talk of court action to challenge the process, but not by the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band.
Janes said all those things would be good, but it might take years to accomplish. The time it might take to right any wrongs done, he said, are of little comfort to people who could lose their status and the accompanying benefits before everything gets sorted out.
“We feel abandoned by the very band that had accepted us,” said Janes. “Now that they don’t really need us, they are telling us we are not good enough and they don’t need us anymore.”
The Western Star contacted Mitchell and Bennett for comment on the concerns of the Mi’kmaq people in Burgeo. Only Bennett replied.
He would not do an interview Wednesday, but did say in an email that he and Mitchell plan to visit the people of Burgeo, and details of when that meeting will take place should be figured out in the coming days.
Janes said that is good news, but emphasized the petition he has initiated will continue until that meeting actually happens.