Chief Brendan Mitchell has no problem with people trying to improve their lot in life, but is disgusted with the way the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band is being treated by a group that wants to distance itself from the band.
The Qalipu chief was reacting to news that the Flay Bay Band Inc. in St. George’s Bay wants to separate from Qalipu because of the controversial founding membership enrolment process. That process, which has seen thousands of people denied membership, is coming to an end and is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many in the Mi’kmaq community.
In a social media post this past weekend, Flat Bay Chief Liz Lasaga described the enrolment process as illegitimate and embarrassing.
During an interview Tuesday morning, Mitchell said he felt Lasaga’s comments were leveled at Qalipu itself and not just the enrolment process, even though Lasaga has emphasized she does not have a problem with the Qalipu council or the services it provides to its members.
Mitchell noted there are 132 Qalipu members living in the communities served by Flat Bay Band Inc. and which include Flat Bay East, Flat Bay West and St. Teresa. The self-governing, incorporated entity, which claims to represent roughly 1,000 people in western Newfoundland and beyond the province, is not itself affiliated with the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band.
“We don’t govern the Flat Bay band, we are not involved in their administration,” said Mitchell. “They are on their own, doing their own thing. For them to say they are separating from us, they are really not part of us to separate in the true context of separation.”
Mitchell said Lasaga’s public comments are insulting to all who have fought for the Mi’kmaq people of Newfoundland and Labrador for the last 50 years.
He also took exception to her comment on Facebook that the Qalipu membership is particularly laden with people from the Bay of Islands area. He said the assertion is that people living in the Flat Bay area are somehow more Indigenous than any other Mi’kmaq people.
“(The Qalipu members in the Bay of Islands) are as much Mi’kmaq as Liz Lasaga is,” he said.
The Flat Bay band’s leader said they want a prorated portion of Qalipu funds to administer status-related programs to its members. Mitchell said there is no set amount of money in the Qalipu coffers specifically allocated for Flat Bay, just money to offer Qalipu members there the same health and educational benefits as to its members elsewhere.
“It’s all about money and how do they get their hands on it,” charged Mitchell. “And she’s using the enrolment process and the complications of it in support of her case.”
Lasaga said it’s only a matter of time before Qalipu self-destructs and she wants the Flat Bay band to be removed from that scenario should it come to pass.
“That’s wishful thinking on her part,” Mitchell said of the idea of Qalipu’s inevitable demise.
What Mitchell finds most alarming is that Lasaga is openly speaking of pursuing separation from Qalipu, while the band’s leadership has not yet consulted with the entire Flat Bay band’s membership or negotiated anything with the federal government.
“We are not hearing positive solutions for anything with our enrolment or otherwise coming out of Flat Bay,” he said. “What’s being offered is criticism. Criticism without solutions really offers nothing and this is what we are getting from these leaders in Flat Bay. This is disappointing.”
Qalipu is a landless band. Mitchell said, if Flat Bay wants to try and establish itself as a reserve, he sincerely wishes them all the best with what would be a long and difficult process.
“If their goal is a reserve, I have no problem with that,” he said. “I do have a problem with them trying to destroy Qalipu along the way and putting this organization and its membership down.”
The Western Star asked the federal Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs for a comment about the Flat bay band’s quest for independence, but no one was made available as of deadline Tuesday.
The Western Star also reached out to Gudie Hutchings, the Liberal Commons member for Long Range Mountains, for comment. She was out of the province and not made available, though her Corner Brook office indicated Hutchings was aware of the issue and there is work being done to arrange a meeting between the MP and the Flat Bay band.