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Former Qalipu chief Brendan Sheppard says court decisions likely won’t result in much larger membership; fall election should proceed

Former Qalipu First Nations Band chief Brendan Sheppard was on hand for a recent meeting concerning the possible separation of Qalipu and the Flat Bay Band Inc.
Former Qalipu First Nations Band chief Brendan Sheppard was on hand for a recent meeting concerning the possible separation of Qalipu and the Flat Bay Band Inc. - Star file photo

The original chief of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band says those fighting the enrolment process may have won victory in court, but still doubts many of them will end up being in the band.

Brendan Sheppard of Flat Bay was chief when the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, representing the band, signed off on a supplemental agreement with the federal government in 2013 that would lead to the reassessment of who would be a founding member of Qalipu.

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The original founding members list had been about 24,000 people strong. When the dust of the supplemental agreement settled, a process began that saw more than 100,000 apply to be a member, but only 18,000 or so were approved.

The lower number included about 10,000 whose names were on the original founding members list being informed they no longer qualified.

Last week, the Federal Court ruled that a portion of the supplemental agreement was unfair and that some of the denied applicants should be given a chance to include more information in their applications and have their requests for membership reassessed.

The court also ruled some who had been told they could not appeal their denials should be permitted to appeal their rejection.

Sheppard said the significance of this legal win for the Mi’kmaq First Nation Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador, which successfully argued for both court decisions, is being blown out of proportion.

“I think they’re just trying to play up the impact of the procedural points they won on,” Sheppard said in an interview Monday.

He said the court decision, particularly allowing some applicants to file more self-identification documentation, may benefit some people, but there are many who simply don’t have anything further to support their applications.

“Having the right to appeal, where there is no documentation in the files — as I believe a lot of these people do — I’m not sure that will help anyone, quite frankly,” he said.

There is no doubt the court decisions will delay the establishment of a new founding members list, which was supposed to be made official this spring. There is no word yet on how much longer that will now take in light of the developments at the Federal Court.

The former chief said the delay will just put off the inevitable disappointment many will feel in being denied membership.

“The end result will show that most of these people were opportunists just wanting to become part of something because there were benefits there,” said Sheppard.

The plan to establish the Qalipu band was meant to be a benefit mainly for those people who had been active members in the Federation of Newfoundland Indians. It wasn’t meant to be for every single person who could trace their roots to Mi’kmaq ancestry, he noted.

Sheppard said he has siblings who do not qualify because they are not able to establish a substantive connection to the Mi’kmaq communities on the island of Newfoundland, one of the criterion for eligibility.

“If it hadn’t have been for those 60,000 or 70,000 additional opportunist people who took away from the true Mi’kmaq people of Newfoundland, then this process would have been long settled and things taken care of,” said Sheppard.

He said he doesn’t believe all of the people who say they just want to be Qalipu members so they can be recognized as Mi’kmaq, and many only want membership for the benefits they can obtain.

“If the federal government said they we’re going to be taking applications for people of Mexican descent and we will give them some benefits, you would see an awful lot of people with sombreros,” he said.

He added there are likely many people who should be in the Qalipu band, but who never applied.

“It’s shameful it had to come to this point because there are many Mi’kmaq people who probably just got confused by all that was happening and didn’t provide enough information,” he said. “I see them all around in my own community.”

While the enrolment process is almost certainly going to be delayed, Sheppard says the Qalipu council election slated for this fall should proceed on schedule. He said any effort to delay the election would be a violation of the Qalipu Election Code that is part of the agreement to form the band.

Sheppard said the original founding members list has to be the voters list for the next election, unless the federal government is able to establish a new founding members list before the election.

This would mean that even the 10,000 people who have been told they will lose their membership status should be allowed to vote up until their status cards are taken from them, he said.

“Their benefits won’t be impacted until they’re taken off that registry, so they should still have the right to vote.”

Weblink: http://qalipu.ca/about/governance/elections/

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