New Mi'kmaq band coming to Newfoundland

Clayton Hunt
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While the Mi'kmaq people of Conne River have enjoyed Indian status since 1985 and have enjoyed reserve rights since that time, the rest of the Mi'kmaq people in Newfoundland did not have Indian status. However, the Mi'kmaq people living in places in Newfoundland outside of Conne River will also have Indian status soon, as they recently voted overwhelmingly to accept an agreement-in-principle with the federal government that will give the group recognition as status Indians.

While the agreement will not give the province's 10,500 Mi'kmaq living outside Conne River land or hunting rights, it will provide money for education, health, economic development and other programs.

While the Mi'kmaq people of Conne River have enjoyed Indian status since 1985 and have enjoyed reserve rights since that time, the rest of the Mi'kmaq people in Newfoundland did not have Indian status. However, the Mi'kmaq people living in places in Newfoundland outside of Conne River will also have Indian status soon, as they recently voted overwhelmingly to accept an agreement-in-principle with the federal government that will give the group recognition as status Indians.

While the agreement will not give the province's 10,500 Mi'kmaq living outside Conne River land or hunting rights, it will provide money for education, health, economic development and other programs.

Brendan Sheppard, the president of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI), said that the vote, which was counted in Corner Brook on March 30, was a historic occasion for the Mi'kmaq.

"The mandate of the FNI, since it was established in 1972, has been to obtain official recognition of Mi'kmaq people. With this vote we have been given the opportunity for recognition with the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs as status Indians under the Indian Act as a landless band," Mr. Sheppard said. "No doubt, we have waited quite some time for this recognition. However, in addition to the chance for recognition under the Indian Act, we also have the opportunity to negotiate for funding for various programs such as education and health."

Mr. Sheppard noted that while the agreement-in-principle with the federal government is not everything the Mi'kmaq wanted, it is the beginning of a new First Nations Band.

"It's too bad we were a little late in starting this process. However, we have to start somewhere, and it's never too late to start building on a very firm foundation and hopefully this will lead to better lives for our children, grandchildren and for future generations," Mr. Sheppard noted. "It's a great event for our future to be able to say that we will be formally registered with the appropriate federal parties and that we will have the formation of the Qulipu ( pronounced hay-la-boo) Mi'kmaq First Nations Band."

Mr. Sheppard said that the Mi'kmaq Indians living outside of Conne River are widely dispersed across the province and live in such areas as Glenwood, Clarke's Head, the Grand Falls-Windsor region, the Bay of Islands and the Bay St. George areas and Burgeo.

He noted that all Mi'kmaq people, regardless of where they may live, will be treated with equality in any programs and services that may come down through the agreement to their landless band. The agreement-in-principle now has to be ratified by Ottawa. Apparently, this is just a formality and the new band should be established by 2010.

Chief Misel Joe of the Conne River Indian Band said that he wishes the new band members well in their endorsement of the agreement with Ottawa.

"The Mi'kmaq people in Newfoundland living outside Conne River can finally take their rightful place in Canadian history and society in being recognized as Mi'kmaq people," Chief Misel Joe said. "Although they did not win land or hunting rights with this agreement, they have won the right to negotiate with the federal government for funding for various social and economic programs. I hope they receive all that they are entitled to and then some."

Organizations: FNI, Federation of Newfoundland, Conne River Indian Band

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Conne River, Corner Brook Ottawa Glenwood Grand Falls Windsor Bay of Islands Burgeo

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