More than 20,000 people within Newfoundland and Labrador have been recognized by the Canadian government with standing under the Indian Act. They are members of the Qalipu (pronounced Hal-lay-boo) Mi’kmaq First Nation Band.
The announcement was made Monday morning, by way of a joint news release from federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Peter Penashue and interim Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band Chief Brendan Sheppard.
“The creation of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band is an important step forward for the Mi’kmaq people of Newfoundland,” Duncan stated.
“I congratulate the efforts of all members of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band,” Penashue added. “Today marks a historic occasion for the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland, one which will not be forgotten.”
The federal government had reached an agreement in principle for granting status on June 23, 2008. Sheppard said his people have worked hard since that time to solidify membership and make official status a reality, by way of an Order in Council.
“If there was any opportunity, if I felt any lighter, I could walk on water. I’m very, very pleased, very happy and excited about the entire announcement. Very much so,” he told The Telegram.
Sheppard acknowledged the financial benefits, yet said he feels recognition of the band’s unique heritage, culture and tradition will mean more.
“We’ve had a lot of our elders actually pass on and the one thing I’ve heard many of them mention to me, in sessions that we used to have, that ‘I’d be quite satisfied if I know that our ancestry, our Mi’kmaq ancestry has been recognized by Canada.’ Similar, or on par with, other aboriginal people in this country,” he said. “That’s still a big thing with many people.”
Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band members are scattered across the island, with some tighter pockets in western and central Newfoundland. Only individuals who have submitted an application for membership — one reviewed and accepted by an enrolment committee — are counted as band members.
Membership stands at 21,429 people. However, the registration process is set to continue until Nov. 30, 2012. “It is anticipated that the final membership numbers could result in the new band being the largest aboriginal band in Canada,” according to a statement released Monday by band leaders.
“The number of people applying for registration certainly has indicated far more than was anticipated by the organization,” Sheppard said.
“That’s an indication that people, not only for benefits, but see a real opportunity, a realistic opportunity, for registration as an aboriginal person in Canada.”
There is no land set aside by government for a band reserve. The Qalipu Mi’kmaq will continue to pay federal and provincial taxes. Band members have also given up any ability to make a personal claim against the Canadian government for any past failure to provide benefits comparable to those with standing under the Indian Act.
However, they are now eligible for: post-secondary student support, band support funding (for administration) and employee benefits, non-insured health benefits, business development assistance, aboriginal youth programming, reduced travel rates (a 33 per cent discount with VIA Rail in Western Canada), home renovation assistance (under Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program) and any future programs from the Canadian government.
The Qalipu Mi’kmaq, whose name comes from the Mi’kmaq word for caribou, will have offices in St. Georges, Grand Falls-Windsor, Glenwood and Corner Brook.
Sheppard said he does not see any major issues left on the table for the band at this point and he is looking forward to developing a stronger relationship with the provincial and federal governments.
A special event is being planned to celebrate the band’s new standing. The event will be by invitation only, likely in October, Sheppard said.