I am pleased to greet you during this festive season and I pray that each of you finds joy in the twinkling lights, the snow-covered trees and Christmas treats. I also pray that during this holiday season each one of you is blessed with many special moments of love and sharing. May your homes be warmed with the presence of children, grandchildren, family members, friends and beloved pets.
I know that, for many, Christmas is not always joyous and it can be a difficult time of year. I pray too that the Creator be with those who may have lost a loved one, is experiencing illness of a loved one, or finds themselves without the means of enjoying the kind of Christmas they would like. Trust that there will still be many good moments for which to be thankful. Creator is with us in good times, and in bad.
As I extend best wishes for 2017, I am struggling as your Chief, with the knowledge that we will share difficult times in the year ahead. As we approach January 31, 2017, the conclusion of the enrolment process for membership in Qalipu First Nation, I recognize that applicants, which includes current members, are apprehensive and worried about possible outcomes. I share your worries and concerns. I have been working diligently on behalf of applicants while also lobbying Canada to minimize impacts and outcomes of the enrolment process.
In September of 2011, we received recognition as a First Nation under the Indian Act. This was a truly momentous event that was the culmination of decades of fighting for recognition as the Federation of Newfoundland Indians. Then something happened that surprised everyone; over 100,000 people came out and said, “I am Mi’kmaw!” In the final days allotted for review of applications under the Agreement in Principle (Agreement), tens of thousands of applications were received. Leadership at the time, which consisted of the Government of Canada (Canada) and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI), realized the need to negotiate an extension to the Agreement, as well as giving more guidance to the Enrolment Committee on applying enrolment criteria as presented in the Agreement.
In July, 2013, the Supplemental Agreement and its associated Directives to the Enrolment Committee, was introduced by Canada and the FNI. The Supplemental Agreement meant that all outstanding applications would be reviewed, as well as all those that had already been assessed. Indeed, even those who had received status cards were reviewed under the criteria laid out in the Supplemental Agreement to ensure everyone was assessed with the same criteria.
At the end of January, 2017, approximately 101,000 letters will be mailed to Qalipu members, and those seeking membership, advising them of the decision on their application. These letters are expected to be received within the first ten days in February. For those with a right to appeal the decision of the Enrolment Committee, there will be forty-five days to file such an appeal. The Appeal Notice Form will be included in the letters sent out. An independent team of legally-trained Appeal Masters will review all appeals submitted and a final determination will be made on the appeal. The appeal process will be completed in its entirety by the fall of 2017. The decisions of the Appeal Masters will be final.
When I was elected in 2015, I inherited this process. The legal agreements setting out how Founding Membership in the Qalipu First Nation was to be determined had already been established. I have been asked the question, ‘Will you walk away from the table?’, and ‘will you fight to start over?’ My answer is no, I will not. I might have negotiated things differently had I been in a leadership position at the time that agreements were made. Today I have an obligation, as difficult as the outcome will be for many, to act in the best interests of our First Nation as a whole and to see the enrolment process through as it had been previously negotiated. After having taken decades for the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq to achieve recognition, it is not in our First Nation’s best interest to leave it in a state of limbo by walking away from the table at this time. This could potentially allow the Government of Canada to be in a position to unilaterally determine how all unresolved membership issues arising from the current enrolment process should be addressed. Furthermore, I am concerned about the risk of losing or suspending the many programs and benefits that will be available to those who gain membership in Qalipu First Nation.
Many of you have made your concerns regarding the enrolment process known to your MP’s and the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). Others may exercise their right to do so. I have been working with various levels of government to minimize the potential negative impacts of the ongoing enrolment process. I have met three times with the Honourable Minister Carolyn Bennett of INAC and with Joelle Montminy, Assistant Deputy Minister of INAC and with other senior staff members at INAC. I have also met with Newfoundland Members of Parliament to express my concerns on this important situation. I have asked for support from the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the Assembly of First Nations and I continue to meet with Canada’s legal representatives on the Enrolment Implementation Committee in an attempt to minimize impacts on current Qalipu members, particularly those that live outside established aboriginal communities. Furthermore, I have written to Prime Minister Trudeau asking for a meeting on the topic of the Qalipu enrolment process. These efforts will continue.
The most important thing I want you to know now, all of you, is that whether you are found eligible to hold a status card under the Indian Act or not, you will find that you are welcome at Qalipu First Nation. The pinnacle of our focus going forward will be a culture of inclusion, and ensuring that it is the Mi’kmaq in our hearts that defines us, not what is stated on paper.
On behalf of Council and all of our staff I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. We look forward to working diligently on your behalf in 2017.