Mi’kmaq assembly fighting to gain government attention

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Gary Kean
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First AGM helps keep the ball rolling on efforts for federal recognition

The Mi’kmaq First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland hopes its first annual general meeting will help keep the momentum going in its fight for equal treatment from the federal government.

The assembly was incorporated in May 2013, born out of the frustration that boiled over during the enrolment process for the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band.

More than 12,000 people, most of whom feel they have been wrongly excluded from enrolment, have registered for membership with the assembly. A little more than 200 of them were at the inaugural annual general meeting held at the Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook Saturday.

Don Loder now lives in Ontario, but his family is from Summerside in the Bay of Islands. He was appointed chairman of the assembly when it was formed last year. There was no election of a new board at Saturday’s meeting as the assembly’s constitution calls for the board to remain at the helm until elections are held in another year or two.

Initial indications were that 100 to 120 people would attend the meeting. While more showed up, Loder hopes the next meeting will draw a higher percentage of the membership, which is scattered all over the map.

Those who attended indicated they support the directions being taken by the  assembly.

The assembly wants to open an office with a full-time employee in Corner Brook to facilitate meetings and get the group’s message out to members.

The assembly is waiting for a judicial review of the federal government’s decisions regarding the Qalipu enrolment process. Since that review process was initiated, the federal government enacted new legislation that effectively prevents groups like the Mi’kmaq First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland from suing the government about its decisions regarding Qali­pu.

Loder said the battle continues on both the legal and political front, despite the assembly’s constant difficulty in getting attention from government leaders, provincially or federally.

“It’s been impossible,” he said. “We’ve sent letters out trying to get communication going and nothing ever comes back. Government doesn’t want anything to do with us. They basically just turn their backs and walk away.

“We’re not giving up by any stretch, but it’s like trying to pull a nail out of a board with your teeth.”

With both federal and provincial elections on the horizon, Loder hopes the assembly’s voice will  have to be listened to by those seeking office.

The assembly is convinced the Qalipu enrolment process was flawed and the federal government needs to fix it in an equitable manner. For instance, some of the people denied membership in Qalipu have immediate family who have been accepted.

“It’s to a point where I’m not sure it will pull families apart, but it’s questionable how one person in a family can be a native and the other not,” he said.

“It makes no sense and it should be corrected.”

 

 

Organizations: Pepsi Centre, First Nations Assembly of Newfoundland

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Ontario, Summerside Bay of Islands

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