Fifty years of political chicanery and racist shenanigans have deprived Newfoundland native people of their rights within Canada. Now Flat Bay Micmacs are moving to make things right with a special registration designed to identify everyone who qualifies as native.
Band Council Chief Calvin White is a veteran of the infighting and nastiness that has been the hallmark of the struggle for native rights on the island: “Fifty years ago, Newfoundland joined Canada. Let’s finally get things right by concluding our unfinished business.”
In the 1970’s, White was band chief for a time as well as president of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI). It was then that he first learned about the provincial government’s reluctance to have natives recognized and registered by the federal government.
“It goes back to the Confederation; in 1949 there was no specific provision made
concerning Indians in the province,” said White.
“Native people were caught up in the strategies for vote-getting during referendum campaigns prior to Confederation.”
“Despite obvious evidence to the contrary, Joey Smallwood’s stated position at the time was that there were no Indians in Newfoundland at all.”
According to White, Ottawa did not want to take responsibility for the island’s Micmacs so a special ‘arrangement was made under which the province was given full authority to identify or designate native communities in any way it wanted.
This led to some strange decisions and situations.
The province was entitled to bill Ottawa for 90 cents of every dollar spent on Indians, so they designated communities at will, whether they were native or not – but only in Labrador. St. John’s simply saw the ‘arrangement’ as a clever way to get Ottawa to pay most of its expenses in Labrador, whether native people were receiving any of the benefits or not.
By the early 1970’s, Micmacs on the Island, frustrated by their exclusion from federal benefits, challenged Ottawa and began negotiations for equal status with other First Nations peoples.
The FNI accepted a compromise at the time in which only Conne River was designated a native community, with its residents becoming ‘registered’ Indians, entitled to the full range of programs and services offered by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
“I wanted a blanket agreement for all Indians on the island but the province was totally opposed,” said Chief White. “Conne River was meant to be a pilot project before looking to the rest of the island.”
With a written commitment from Ottawa, negotiations for the rest of the island’s natives proceeded and had nearly reached conclusion in the late 1970’s. Then the federal government was defeated in a general election. That stopped the process.
“Somebody in the new federal cabinet killed it,” said Chief White. “I have no evidence but my strong gut feeling is that it was John Crosbie. The premier (fellow Conservative Brian Peckford) was totally opposed to registration. Why would any of the other federal ministers care about blocking few hundred Indians in Newfoundland from getting registered?”
After an unsuccessful court challenge, Chief White decided that, for the sake of the FNI, he should withdraw from the native movement because of the enemies he’d made in the provincial government.
And that was that. For twenty more years, the status quo of Joey Smallwood, THERE ARE NO INDIANS IN NEWFOUNDLAND, remained in place, Welcome to Canada.
In 1998, however, Calvin White figured the time was ripe for him to get involved again. Re-elected chief, he moved towards registration for his own community of Flat Bay all over again, “from the ground up.”
This time around, Chief White believes that a 1945 census done in Newfoundland should make the special registration in process simple and straightforward. The census identified Indian people; he feels the vast majority of Micmacs were covered by it.
All that anyone has to do in the current registration is show that they were identified in that census, or their parents or grandparents were. Birth certificate are often sufficient as supporting documentation. In other cases, court records can be produced that indicate an individual was identified and recognized as Indian.
Chief White, who is a commercial fisherman and hunting guide , hopes the process will be concluded by end of summer. He plans to hand deliver the documents in a formal presentation to the federal minister in Ottawa when parliament is in session this fall. Because the documentation is so solid, he expects no more than a three month wait before the request for registration is granted.
“It’s an ideal time to do it. Attitudes toward native people have changed over the years, even though some people still fear ideas such as Indian self-government.”
Chief Calvin White: “These things are not threats. This is a process to unite us and bring us closer, not divide us. I welcome the integration of our people into the mainstream of development; but I want to see integration without assimilation – such as Chinese Canadians have achieved for instance.
“My ambition is that all communities in the Bay St. George region can support each other’s efforts. I see our registration as part of that.”
So far 350 residents have had their documentation confirmed. Anyone with direct ties to Flat Bay who would like to be included should contact the band office in writing (PO Box 375, St George’s).