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Federal government ending discussion due to active litigation on the validity of the 2013 Supplemental Agreement
After 27 months of discussions the federal government has told the Qalipu First Nation that it intends to stop further discussions with the band and abandon joint efforts to address membership for former members of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI) and its affiliates.
That decision is not sitting well with the band.
“This came with no notice to us,” Chief Brendan Mitchell said Friday.
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He received the letter from Lori Doran, the director general of the individual affairs branch of Indigenous Services Canada, on Monday.
The letter said the decision to stop further discussion is due to the active litigation on the validity of the 2013 Supplemental Agreement, which resulted in thousands of band applicants and members no longer meeting the requirements for membership.
“This decision is not one that has been taken lightly but following many attempts to finalize enrolment to the Qalipu band, direction from the courts will be instructive,” Doran said in the letter.
Mitchell said the reasoning has the band council, which also serves as directors of FNI, completely dumbfounded.
“Just tell me how long, do you think, it will take for these court cases to be decided? And it isn’t fair to hold our membership out that long,” he said.
“They knew in 2018 that these litigations were already started.”
“Canada has really let all the good things we were working on here, like partnering, like nation to nation, and like reconciliation fly right out the window." — Chief Brendan Mitchell
Once the cases — Abbott, Benoit, Wells and Collins — are decided, and if a decision is made to bring people back into the band, it won’t happen overnight, he said.
Mitchell said the potential is there for this to go on for another three to five years, and that is concerning for people, many of whom are in the FNI, and are why the process toward recognition was started.
“Some of these people voted in the ratification to form Qalipu First Nation and we’ve left them behind or left them out.”
The number of people affected in the FNI or affiliate bands could number more than 2,000.
“Canada has really let all the good things we were working on here, like partnering, like nation to nation, and like reconciliation fly right out the window. Yes, we’re disappointed here,” said Mitchell.
In an emailed statement Friday night, Indigenous Services Canada said confidential discussions on this issue are ongoing between the parties involved and it would be inappropriate for the department to comment.
The department said it is working with Qalipu on next steps and additional details will be forthcoming.
Calvin White Sr. of Flat Bay is a founder of the FNI and has been fighting the battle of recognition for 50 years. He’s still got his status, but knows of many others who don’t.
White has seen the letter sent to Qalipu and says there is a need for people to be cautious, because what the federal government said it is doing is walking away from the talks pending the outcome of the court cases.
“And that’s typical of any organization. Once something is in the courts, they won’t talk about it until the court makes a decision.”
White said he is hopeful that's what is happening and that the issue will be resolved.
“I’m optimistic that it will. It’s going to take a long time,” he said, adding it may still end up in the federal courts or be explored through a human rights challenge.
“I don’t know that I’m convinced that it will, but I hope that it will someday be resolved, because it is a mess.” — Calvin White Sr.
“I don’t know that I’m convinced that it will, but I hope that it will someday be resolved, because it is a mess.”
He said the loss of recognition is sad and there was a lot of work done and sacrifices made in getting it in the first place. Many of the people affected are vulnerable and don’t have the means to fight, he added.
While the discussion related to the FNI is delayed, the letter also included a draft news release for Mitchell to consider to announce a new agreement to be co-developed by the federal government with Qalipu and the FNI on the reconsideration of applications for veterans, active armed forces members and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Mitchell said this aspect of the enrolment issue has been easier to deal with because the number of people affected is much lower.
Qalipu has sent a response to Marc Miller, minister of Indigenous Services, asking that the federal government reconsider its position.