Liberal MP Gerry Byrne is crying foul, saying that the federal government is moving to pull the rug out from under tens of thousands of people seeking First Nations status as members of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq band.
And Byrne should know; he’s one of the people seeking status as a member of the band.
This week, the federal Conservatives introduced a bill that explicitly says that the federal cabinet can remove names from the list of members of the Mi’kmaq band. It also says that the federal government cannot be sued if it removes somebody from the list.
Byrne said he believes that the federal government is setting itself up to revoke the membership claims of many, many applicants.
More than 100,000 people have applied to be members of the band, and Byrne said that “absolutely” the criteria for membership were extremely broad.
“Members can be enrolled without regard to any blood quantum. In other words, you can be 15 generations away from any Canadian aboriginal ancestor and still be eligible. That was specifically contemplated and accepted by the federal government and the federation of indians in the Mi’kmaq community,” he said.
“You do not actually have to be Mi’kmaq Indian to be a member of this band, which is explicitly spelled out in the enrolment criteria. You can be an Indian of any Canadian aboriginal descent.”
Based on that criteria, Byrne says he applied for membership.
“My ancestry intersects the Mi’kmaq community in five different locations,” he said.
“I’m not going to debate this. I’m not going to go into an extensive debate proving my own validity. I’m applying under an existing set of rules that were established by the band, by the Mi’kmaq community.”
But if the federal government starts revoking Indian status from applicants, Byrne said that’s tantamount to going back on a deal that was negotiated between Ottawa and members of the Newfoundland Federation of Indians.
Byrne equated it to the Upper Churchill agreement, saying that a deal is a deal and you can’t go back on it.
The Telegram tried to speak to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, but he would not do an interview.
A spokeswoman sent a statement saying that Bill C-25 will “protect the integrity and credibility of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.
It will also ensure that only those with a legitimate claim to membership are registered following the completion of the enrolment process.”