by Frank Larue
The Mi’kmaq’s in Newfoundland have had to deal with a tragic history. In 1949, when Newfoundland became a Canadian province, there was no more than 560 Mi’kmaqs there. Unfortunately they were never subject to the Indian Act, which all native bands were governed by. This meant that they never received the benefits such as post-secondary assistance, medical assistance, along with the benefits most status indians received
In 2008, the population had grown to 23,000, so the government decided to create a landless band: the Qualipu. This gave the Mi’kmaq’s the same rights as most status Indians. The problem that the government wasn’t expecting was the number of applicants for the Qualipu, which has risen to 100,000. This meant that the Mi’kmaq were 1/5 of the population in Newfoundland. The federal government put through a new bill C-25, which gave them the power to review and revoke the indian status of native people who had been approved in 2005. Also, Bill C-25 didn’t allow native people who had been disqualified to appeal the decision.
To meet the criteria to be a member, the person must reside in Newfoundland – which many of the applicants did not – and for the applicant to prove their native identity. Their identity had to be accepted by a Mi’kmaq community, and show a connection to a Mi’kmaq community before 1949.
Hector Pearce, 69-year old retired psychologist and vice chair of the Mi’kmaq First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland, discovered his roots eight years ago. He told the CBC that “… this whole process has been bungled, they just made a mess of this from the beginning. I don’t want people to tell me I’m not something I am.”
More applicants were disqualified for not providing either a connection with a Mi’kmaq community, or a connection before 1949, but there were also petty administrative problems that nixed the applications. Jaimie Lickers, the lawyer representing the Mi’kmaq First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland, complained about the hundreds of applications that were turned down because of some small mistake. On top of this, there was no appeal for these mistakes.
“We’re talking about lifelong entitlement to Indian status and band membership. Recognition of your heritage,” she told the Globe and Mail. “To be disqualified from that because you forgot to include a long-form birth certificate is ridiculous.”
More than 68,000 native people have been rejected, including 10,000 members who were approved either in 1989 or 2005, which means they no longer are status Indians.
“Think about that for a moment,” Qualipa Chief Brendan Mitchell told the Globe and Mail. “People have a [status] card for five years, and all of a sudden the Canadian Government says: ‘we’re not recognizing you anymore. Give your card back.’ Sadly the government of Canada, in my view, shows no remorse or compassion about what happened here. It’s all ‘well, we had a deal and here’s the outcome and screw it, you’re in or you’re out.”