A tale of two leaders

Published on July 10, 2014

The latest in the ongoing Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band enrolment saga played out in the news this week with the band itself holding its annual general assembly last weekend. This August, meanwhile, the Mi’kmaq First Nations Assembly — which counts many of the denied Qalipu enrolment applicants among its more than 12,000 members — also plans to hold its first-ever general meeting.

The common thread in the news stories about the two groups this week was “moving on” from the controversy over the enrolment process. But judging by the comments made by the respective leaders in separate news stories this week, their idea of moving on differs.

Mi’kmaq Assembly vice-chair Hector Pearce gave credit to Qalipu band Chief Brendan Sheppard for trying to move beyond the enrolment issues. But Pearce also said much deliberation will be put into whether the assembly can launch a class-action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of the tens of thousands of people who have been denied status.

Sheppard, on the other hand, prefers to focus on the band’s efforts to create employment and the millions of dollars in benefits the feds paid out to Qalipu members last year.

Those are certainly positive aspects to highlight, but as Pearce told The Western Star this week: “The difficulty is no one really knows who their membership are.”

The reaction to each story published about this issue is typically tinged with either anger or confusion or both, and it’s easy to see why. The degree of urgency on each side seems to vary significantly.

By most reports and comments, the enrolment process has split families — husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, grandparents and grandchildren — among two categories: those who have been accepted into the band and those who have not.

The groups who represent the people who fall under both categories should also find some common ground — at least in the messages they convey publicly — to prevent this divide from becoming a chasm.