moved that Bill C-25, An Act respecting the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band Order, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to rise and speak to this important legislation that will protect the integrity of the enrolment process for membership in the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation.
Before I outline some of the issues that arose during the enrolment process and explain this bill’s objectives, I want to take a moment to describe a bit of the history that led to the creation of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation and to the development of the bill we have before us today.
When Newfoundland joined Confederation back in 1949, the province faced unique issues related to the application of the Indian Act in the province. At the time, there was no agreement between the province and Canada as to if, how or when the Indian Act system would be applied.
Therefore, first nations in Newfoundland were not recognized as Indians under the Indian Act. In the absence of the Indian Act system, Canada provided ad hoc funding to the province to provide social and health programs for the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland. However, the members of that first nation were not entirely satisfied with the situation.
In 1972, the Federation of Newfoundland Indians formed, with the mandate to promote the health, social, cultural, economic, and educational well-being of the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq. Its primary goal was to obtain recognition of the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq's eligibility for registration under the Indian Act.
From 1976 to 1981, various studies were carried out and discussions took place regarding the application of the Indian Act to the Federation of Newfoundland Indians.
After initial efforts to improve relations between Canada and the majority of the Mi'kmaq communities did not result in an agreement, in 1989 the federation launched a Federal Court action against Canada seeking recognition under the Indian Act.
In 2007, the government settled this court action through an agreement in principle to create the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band as a landless band under the Indian Act and to have its members be eligible for the same federal programs available to other off-reserve registered Indians. This agreement in principle was ratified in March 2008 by 90% of the eligible members of the FNI who voted. That led to the signing of the agreement for the recognition of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq band by Canada and the FNI in June 2008.
The creation of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation was, and remains, an important step forward for the Mi'kmaq people of Newfoundland. In addition to giving members of the first nation access to certain federal programs and services, it is very important to note that first nation status provides a strong foundation for Mi'kmaq cultural growth and development. At the official signing ceremony in 2008, Chief Brendan Sheppard said:
...Mi’kmaq people are finally able to claim their birthright, and while we must not forget our history, we must look forward to the future and do the best we possibly can to develop the tremendous potential that exists among our people.
However, the establishment of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation has not been without its challenges. As set out in the 2008 agreement, there was a two-stage enrolment process, which ran from December 1, 2008 to November 30, 2012, a four-year period. The first phase, which ended on November 30, 2009, was intended to identify the founding members. The second phase provided for a 36-month process to guarantee that all those eligible would have the opportunity to apply and be added to the list of founding members.
At the end of the first stage, a Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation Band recognition order was issued by the governor in council on September 22, 2011 that established an Indian Act band and identified its members in a schedule. There was a recognition order, and attached to it was a schedule listing who these members were. As a result of the recognition order and three subsequent amendments made to the schedule, 23,877 individuals were listed as founding members. This number represented all those who had applied prior to November 30, 2009, the end of the first stage of the enrolment process, and who were determined, under the original process, to be eligible for founding membership as per the 2008 agreement. That made sense in light of the fact that the 2006 census revealed that there were approximately 23,450 residents of Newfoundland and Labrador who self-identified as aboriginal.
However, in the second stage, the 36 months following the first stage, we saw another approximately 70,000 applications come in. By November 30, 2012, the deadline for applying, the total number of applications had soared to more than 101,000 applicants. Roughly 46,000 of those had been submitted between September 2012 and the end of November 2012. This in itself is quite telling.
From December 1, 2008 to the end of August 2012, 46,000 applicants had not yet taken any steps in an enrolment process that had started three years and five months earlier. At the last minute, about 46,000 people decided that they were Mi'kmaq Indians in Newfoundland and that they belonged to this group.
One can imagine the surprise of the band members and everyone when the numbers came in. They were approximately 10 times the initial projection of about 8,700 to 12,000 individuals, based on membership data provided by the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, an assessment of historic census data, and other estimates.
These figures would have resulted in a single band that was equivalent to about 11% of all registered Indians in Canada. In addition, almost 70% of the more than 100,000 applicants do not reside in any of the Mi'kmaq communities targeted for recognition in this initiative. They live elsewhere in Canada.
This was not at all reflective of the original intent of the parties as set out in the 2008 agreement, which was that founding membership in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation would be granted primarily to persons living in or around the 67 Newfoundland Mi'kmaq communities named in the agreement. While individuals living outside of these communities could also become members, the intent of the parties was that non-residents would be required to have maintained a strong cultural connection with a Newfoundland Mi'kmaq community, including sustained and active involvement in that community.
There was no time, and this is another important consideration, to consider the additional applications prior to the end of the enrolment process established by the 2008 agreement, which was November 30, 2012. According to that agreement, if these applications were not processed or reviewed, it ended, so they could not be reviewed.
It was obvious to both Canada and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians that something needed to be done if the integrity of this first nation was going to be protected. At a minimum, greater clarity about eligibility was required, as the process had become unsustainable.
The Federation of Newfoundland Indians and the Government of Canada agreed to review the effectiveness of the implementation of the 2008 agreement and to look at possible solutions.
In July 2013, the president of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and I announced a supplemental agreement to address shared concerns about the integrity of the enrolment process for membership in the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation.
The 2013 supplemental agreement, which we signed with the federation, protects the integrity of the first nation by ensuring that only those with a legitimate claim to membership and registration are enrolled. That is all we care about, protecting the integrity of that first nation.
At the same time, it provides for a fair process that ensures the fair and equitable treatment of all applicants in a manner that respects taxpayer dollars. More specifically, it extends the timeline to review applications, ensuring that all applications previously unprocessed will be processed, since they could not be processed under the agreement of 2008.
Second, it ensures that all applications received during all phases of the enrolment process will be assessed or reassessed, except those that were rejected. This guarantees that all applicants, no matter when they applied during the process, will be treated fairly and equitably.
Third, this supplemental agreement guaranteed that anyone whose application was reviewed would be sent a notification and that those who had submitted valid applications would be given an opportunity to provide additional documentation in support of their applications. This deadline has now passed.
In November 2013, all applicants received one of two letters. In cases where an application was invalid because it did not meet the basic requirements to be assessed, the letter advised the applicant that his or her application had been denied. About 6,000 people received that letter.
Where an application was valid, the letter advised the applicant that he or she could provide additional documentation relating to the criteria of self-identification and group acceptance by January 30, 2014. We extended that to February 10, by the way, due to extreme weather conditions in Newfoundland.
Fourth, the supplemental agreement clarifies how an application for self-identification as a member of the Mi'kmaq group of Indians of Newfoundland is assessed.
Finally, it provides guidance regarding an individual's acceptance by the Mi'kmaq group of Indians of Newfoundland. This information is particularly relevant to individuals living outside because of the group acceptance requirement in the agreement of 2008.
I want to underscore that the supplemental agreement does not change the enrolment criteria set out in section 4.1 of the 2008 agreement. The criteria remains the same. As per the 2008 agreement, the applications will be assessed by an enrolment committee, which includes two representatives from the Government of Canada, two representatives from the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, and one independent chair. The enrolment committee will conduct a comprehensive assessment or reassessment of all applications that were not previously rejected, in accordance with the criteria for membership that was originally negotiated. It is estimated that this process will take about 2.5 years, after which individuals will be informed of the results of the assessment or reassessment of their application. It is possible that some individuals may lose their Indian status as a result of this process. Those individuals would no longer have access to programs and services provided to registered Indians.
In order to implement the supplemental agreement and address our shared concern with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians regarding the integrity of the enrolment process, we will need to amend the schedule to the order that created the first nation. That is why we need Bill C-25. We are asking Parliament to enable the Governor in Council to amend the schedule of the order creating the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation that lists the names of the founding members.
To be clear, we are not asking to change the recognition order that created the Qalipu first nation. Instead, we are providing the Governor in Council with the authority to make changes to the schedule to the order which lists the names of the first nations founding members.
In addition, the legislation would prevent individuals from collecting compensation or damages from either the Government of Canada or the first nation in the event that at the end of the enrolment process they are found not to have a legitimate claim to membership and are omitted or removed from the schedule. I want to reassure the House that there will be no change in Indian status for existing members during the review process, and while it is underway individuals currently registered will retain access to programs and services. If there are some who are deemed not to be members, there would be no clawback at the end of the enrolment process for the benefits they may have received from the date they were declared members of the band.
I ask all members to think of the integrity of that first nation and also our responsibility to the taxpayers of Canada, because this is at the heart of the bill.