Published on May 17, 2013
Ralph Loder makes a comment during Gerry Byrne's meeting on the Qalipu Mi'kmaq agreement, held at the Pepsi Centre Thursday.
Star photos by Geraldine Brophy
Published on May 17, 2013
Gerry Byrne held a meeting at the Pepsi Centre Thursday, May 16, 2013 to talk about the Qalipu Mi'kmaq agreement.
Byrne hosts meeting to tell "full story" of Qalipu membership applications
CORNER BROOK If the review of the enrolment process of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band results in anything resembling unjust treatment, those who feel they are rightful Indians are preparing for a fight.
It was another massive crowd at the Pepsi Centre Thursday evening for a meeting to discuss the band and its tumultuous progression toward approving membership. This time it was called by Liberal Commons member Gerry Byrne, who was attempting to pass along “the full story.”
With about 70,000 applications for enrolment on hold as the federal government undergoes a review of the process, there has been much concern about changes to the enrolment process affecting those applicants. There is also fear changes could decertify those already approved.
Byrne broke down the original agreement Thursday night, weighing what was signed against the statements made by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister Bernard Valcourt, and members of his department, and band council Chief Brendan Sheppard. The Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte member said the blame has been placed upon the applicants, because there is nowhere else for them to turn.
He suggested he has “busted” any of the explanations or excuses provided by government officials and Sheppard as to why there is a review of the process.
“Everybody was so happy when the prime minister (Stephen Harper) came down in 2007 and signed this agreement,” Byrne said. “Everybody knew what was in this agreement. It is time to break this myth that this agreement was a secret. Everything in this agreement was made as plain as the nose on everybody’s face.”
The fact there was no blood quantum, residency was not required, self-identification was done through signing the application, according to Byrne, was done to be reflective of the realities of the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq situation. It was designed that way purposefully, he said.
“Now, people are saying the consequence of that is we are going to have probably 80,000 members,” he said. “And that’s not fair or not good enough or not what we intended. Yes, it is. There’s a contract signed.”
Byrne said the agreement reflects proud Mi’kmaq people — one of whom he said he is. He said it wasn’t for land rights or benefits, but recognition of who they are as a people.
Erica Lavers stood before the crowd and echoed those sentiments later in the evening. She said she is sick and tired of hearing that people — who have gone out of their way to extensively research their history, file the tedious application, and now fight for what is rightfully theirs — are only for the financial benefits.
“If that’s what it was all about, I would have said to hell with it a long time ago,” she said. “It’s not worth that much to me. But, it is worth that much to me to know my heritage, and to be proud of who I am.”
Linda Wells told the audience that having her status has entitled her to no more rights than anybody who is still waiting. She said they have voting rights, but they get no information on meetings.
“Card-carrying members can’t speak for you, because we cannot even speak for ourselves,” she said. “We have no rights in this band. They are supposed to represent us, but they are not doing that.”
Meanwhile, Dave Callahan said Mi’kmaq elder Calvin White, who received much praise at the meeting for progressing the movement to where it is today, warned everybody the agreement shouldn’t be signed. He said the problem started when they were deemed landless, and said the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the federal government set the band up for failure from the beginning.
“People heard about dentist bills getting paid, they heard about some money that they might get their hands on to send their kids to school,” he said. “They didn’t know they were going to be considered a second-rate, lower-tiered native than the rest of Canada.”
Byrne said it is time for government and the band council to end the secrecy. He said the options to pursue the answers they are looking for are through government, the band council, and the courts — and he hopes it doesn’t have to come down to the court.
He also said there can be no changes to the original agreement without the approval of the general membership.