Qalipu council members resigned from Federation of Newfoundland Indians

Published on February 23, 2017

Joe Bouzanne says the supplemental agreement in place to form the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band should have been ratified by the people.

The only problem is, the people the Qalipu central vice-chief is referring to were never eligible to have a say in the change in how the band’s membership will now be decided.

The supplemental agreement was reached in 2013 and agreed to by the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI) and the federal government. It modified the original agreement in principle between those same two parties reached in 2008 and which had set out the guidelines for membership in the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band.

Despite overwhelming numbers applying for status, hardly any of those applicants were considered members of the FNI as of October 2009. That’s because, at the federation’s annual general assembly that fall, the membership agreed FNI would only include its executive. Subsequently, the elected council of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band would also act as the federation’s executive, with the Qalipu chief acting as the federation president.

The federation is still considered an incorporated entity, but its assets have all been transferred to Qalipu.

Back in 2013

When the federation agreed to the supplemental agreement in 2013, the only membership that could have ratified it was the council of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band that had been elected in 2012.

Currently, only eight of the 12 people elected to the Qalipu council in 2015 are members of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians.

Bouzanne tendered his resignation from the federation in November, while western vice-chief Erica Samms-Hurley, along with ward councilors Arlene Blanchard–White of St. George’s and Gerard Alexander of Stephenville all resigned last August.

Bouzanne would not go into detail about why he resigned, only saying he does not support the supplemental agreement and felt there was a conflict of interest between serving on both the federation executive and the Qalipu council.

“We should have let the people decide," said Bouzanne, who was not a federation executive member prior to being elected to the Qalipu council in 2015.

Bouzanne said the fallout of the supplemental agreement resulting in tens of thousands of people being denied membership is causing major rifts in families and communities and will have economic repercussions, too. He doesn’t know how things will unfold, but said he has no intention of resigning his seat from the Qalipu council.

“The Qalipu people elected me as a vice-chief to be their voice and I have tried and am trying to be a voice,” he said.

He said he doesn’t see how giving up his inherited position with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians will keep him from doing his job as vice-chief.

The Western Star asked Samms-Hurley, Blanchard-White and Alexander for interviews about their reasons for resigning from the Federation of Newfoundland Indians.

None would do an interview, but each provided emailed responses. They all essentially stated they felt no need to consider themselves members of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians when its sole purpose now is to finalize the agreement already made with the federal government.

None of them were on the federation executive when the agreements were reached with Canada.

Chief's perspective

Qalipu Chief Brendan Mitchell said he had hoped all of the council members would maintain their positions with the federation.

“That’s their right to do that — I can’t force them to stay in as an FNI director if they’ve elected to go out of it,” he said.

Mitchell said the federation tries to communicate any developments to all 12 council members, despite the fact not all of them can attend meetings considered to be between the federation and government.

He said he couldn’t think of anything that has come up at any of those meetings that would be kept from the members who resigned.

The intention, added the chief, is for FNI to be fully dissolved once the new founding members list of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band is established, which is expected in the spring of 2018.

Qalipu by the numbers

• It was initially thought that no more than 10,000 members of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, which was formed in the early 1970s, would make up Qalipu. Ten times that number ended up applying in the subsequent years.

• The enrolment committee had received 25,000 applications by Nov. 30, 2009, the conclusion date of the first stage of enrolment, and 23, 877 were included on the original founding members list established in September 2011.

• Around 70,000 more applications were received after the first founding members list was created.