Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the NDP, I am rising to speak to Motion No. 432 on the Qalipu First Nation. We will be supporting the motion brought forward by the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte.
The member who presented the motion ably outlined the details of the motion and some of the concerns about the progress. Essentially, this motion calls upon the government to establish a procedure to review all of its standing requests for membership in the new Qalipu First Nation.
At the heart of this, is the issue around who gets to determine membership. As I mentioned in my question, in the past when there have been membership changes, governments of various political stripes have consistently underestimated the resources and length of time it takes in order to, first, make people aware of the changes and second, to process those applications.
I want to touch a bit on the history because I think this is very important. I will quote from an article written by Justin Brake called, “We're Rebuilding a Nation”, in theindependent.ca. He lays out a solid historical overview of how we got to this place today. He starts with:
—in the early 1600s at the latest, most generations of Mi’kmaq have inhabited the island in an environment of oppression, discrimination and stigmatization.
Sadly, I would like to say that this is no longer the case, that first nations are facing oppression, discrimination and stigmatization. However, in my riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan, in the last 24 hours we saw a letter to the editor of one of my local newspapers that continued with this discrimination and stigmatization. I have been in contact with the Snuneymuxw Chief Doug White to express my concern on what has happened. It is very sad, in this time of first nations that are achieving so much, that there are so many unaware as to what a real partnership could bring to all of us.
I think many of us are very well aware of what first nations have contributed to both our country and others like the United States, not only around culture and art but something as important as democracy. Most of us are aware that the Iroquois Confederacy was part of the founding principles for the democratic process in the United States. Therefore, when people try to define others by using racist language, they just display their own ignorance.
First nations are not waiting for people like those who wrote the letter to the local paper in Nanaimo to catch up to the vibrant cultures, economies and the futures that are currently the lot of many first nations.
In Justin Brake's article, he goes on to talk about the fact that in those early days in the 1600s it was a nomadic culture that hunted, fished and foraged then transitioned to seasonal settlements, but this was all disrupted by the expropriation of lands. He says:
—out of which grew a struggle to survive the way they always have. An increasing number of Mi’kmaq on the island had no choice but to begin selling their labour for money to buy the necessities they once acquired freely themselves.
By many accounts...Mi’kmaq were prohibited from speaking their own language, children were forced into residential schools...In a nutshell, the Mi’kmaq were stripped of a way of life they had developed over a significant period of time and forced into the much harsher social, political and economic world of the island’s new colonizers.
Adrian Tanner, a retired professor of anthropology at Memorial University, said that the Mi’kmaq were presumed to be on the verge of full integration into society when Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949.
Mr. Brake says:
Joey Smallwood told the federal government they had all disappeared or had intermarried and that there were none...Any small amount of research that he would have done would show that there were clearly existing bands at that time, of clearly identifiable Mi’kmaq.
Though the Mi’kmaq continued practicing what customs and traditions they could, the silence generated from their oppression endured until the late 1960s, when a shift in aboriginal consciousness began to grow across the country.
Mr. Brake goes on to outline the resurgence that happened through the National Indian Brotherhood and others partly in response to the 1969 assimilationist paper, the white paper, that was presented to my colleague by the Liberals of the day. However, we had this rising consciousness, which happened in Newfoundland as well.
Mr. Brake goes on to describe this awakening. He wrote:
“They were calling it ‘the awakening’ here (in Corner Brook), awakening to the realization that they were aboriginal people.... It was awakening to the fact that they had aboriginal ancestry and the fact that they wanted to, I guess, develop that part of their identity. Some people knew all along that they had aboriginal ancestry because their families spoke about it, but from what I understand the majority of people here didn’t know. So you look at those 21,500 people who just got status—the majority of them had no idea they had aboriginal ancestry.”
It is a sad commentary on our country that for many first nations, and Métis in particular, there were long periods of time when people simply did not want to acknowledge their ancestors, their traditions, their culture, their language, because of the way that non-aboriginal society responded. Then of course there were the residential schools, which was another attempt at assimilation.
Mr. Brake goes on in his article to write:
“The whole concept of displacement is very important in terms of identity because families got fractured and dispersed. It was almost like a diaspora as far as I’m concerned. People got flung into different areas in and around the Bay of Islands and wherever, and so where they had concentrated communities at one point in time, and when industry came in and dispersed them—that is an issue of identity because all of a sudden you don’t even know who your relatives are.
Further in the article, he writes:
“We were becoming extinct through ignorance. There was very little history, no written history. Even the people themselves were very unaware of who they were, so we were a lost people,” he continues. “And what we started to do in 1969, 1970 is we started to educate ourselves and educate people about who they were, what they belonged to, the values of aboriginal culture, the values of communities working together with one objective in mind: prosperity for our people. And not only prosperity through the ownership of material things, but prosperity that comes from people working together and sharing in responsibility of the upbringing of each other’s children, which is the kind of upbringing that I’m familiar with.
That is a bit of the history about how we came to this situation where the Qalipu people started to examine their ancestry, their geneology, their ties to the Mi'kmaq people, and said they wanted to be recognized as such.
I said at the outset, it comes to the heart of who gets to determine citizenship. We continue to see that play out in any number of ways, because the Indian Act still has very tight control on who determines citizenship. We have the infamous second generation cut-off clause right now, which talks about when people marry out and eventually if their children marry out, people will no longer have status. That is controlled under the Indian Act. First nations from coast to coast to coast, Inuit and Métis have continued to say the government has no right to determine who maintains status.
I mentioned Mr. Caron earlier, the special person who was hired to sort this out. The Qalipu Watchdogs indicated that it was hard to get information about why Mr. Caron was hired. They finally were able to get information that said he was hired to “engage with the Chief and Council of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation to amend the agreement for the recognition or, if necessary, negotiate a new agreement; to tighten the current enrolment process; and to adopt a new process and criteria in light of the surge in the number of applications for membership and the concerns regarding how the criteria have been applied”.
The letter goes on to say:
This news confirms our worst fears and suspicions that the agreement will be altered and decisions regarding the remaining applications dragged out for some indefinite period of time. Qalipu Watchdogs was formed to act as a single voice for the people, because we believe in fair and equal treatment for everyone; including applicants who have not had their applications reviewed, applicants who are in the appeal process, as well as members of the Band who already have their status and might now face the prospect of changes.
All of this uncertainty contributes to a people who have been waiting centuries if we go back to the 1600s but certainly over the last several decades to be able to clean up the mess around their right to be acknowledged as the Qalipu First Nation.
I would encourage all members of the House to support Motion No. 432.