Looking Back

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Indian Band elections are likely most important ever

By BERT ALEXANDER

Special to the Star

There are several band elections being held in Bay St. George this year, the first of which is for the Stephenville/Stephenville Crossing Indian Band.

In view of the current claim against the federal government by the Federation of Newfoundland Indians and other important issues, these elections are probably the most important ever held. Those elected will hold office for the next four years, so it is essential only the most qualified individuals be elected.

Mi'kmaq chiefs are required to possess certain characteristics of leadership and this should be no different for today's band chiefs. The position of chief of the Indian Bands in Bay St. George is an important position for not only band members, but the whole community.

There are 10 bands operating under the umbrella of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI). The federation started in 1972 and represents all Mi'kmaq in the province with the exception of Conne River which gained federal recognition in 1984 to become a federal reserve. Consequently, they have enjoyed many of the benefits that other aboriginal communities possess across the country. Unfortunately, that is not the case for those aboriginals living outside of Conne River. In Bay St. George, there are four separate Indian bands. They are Stephenville/Stephenville Crossing Indian Band of which Benny White is chief; the Port au Port Indian Band, of which Liny MacDonald is chief; the St. George's Indian Band of which Violet Dawson is chief; and finally, the Flat Bay Indian Band with Calvin White as its chief. Candidates for the chief's position of the upcoming Stephenville/Stephenville Crossing Band election, which will be held in Stephenville on Sunday are Stephenville incumbent Benny White; Bruce Alexander from Slephenville; and Madonna Louvelle from Stephenville Crossing.

Because we are moving into a whole new phase of initiative within the movement, it is imperative that anyone holding the position of chief of any Indian Band have organizational expertise; be able to deal with media, public relations and so on; community development experience; a sensitivity to members' needs and wants; strong leadership qualities; an openness and fairness to all; an ability to deal with problem analysis and be solution-oriented; be legal, ethical and moral in all dealings; be able to manage and delegate accordingly; and be a person of vision and a good communicator.

The Western Star, Bert Alexander, April 5, 2005


Silent No More:

by Burt Alexander

I titled this column Looking Back but I have become somewhat uncomfortable with that title, perhaps it's because looking back is not really my nature. I believe that whatever we focus on expands. In other words, we become what we think about most of the time and while it is true that we must occasionally look back, we must never lose focus on the future. After all, how long would we stay on the road if we kept looking in the rear view mirror? We must keep our eyes on the road ahead, so expect to see a new title for this column soon.

Bay St. George is a unique place in many ways, the most important of which is its people and most of the people here happen to be aboriginal. However, as a people, we are no different than any other aboriginal community in Canada except that we have become the victims of a deliberate and calculated plan to assimilate us into the mainstream Newfoundland population by leaving us out of the picture when Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949. Subsequently, the federal government never declared the Indian Act in the province, and the Mi'kmaq of Bay St. George and other parts of the province outside of Conne River were never recognized as aboriginal people and have therefore been denied their legal entitlements under the Act.

In an article published in the Western Star on Feb. 21, 2002 Paul Harris aptly stated, "To deny these people the title and accompanying rights and privileges that go hand in hand with being recognized as a status Indian is nothing short of a crime." In fact, we have as much right to full status as other status Indians in the province and in me rest of Canada, and the vast amount of documented evidence that is now being uncovered proves this to be true.

If you happen to be one of those who might be feeling uncomfortable with your newfound identity as an aboriginal person, you're not alone. Personally, I went through the same internal struggle and I guess I really broke through that mental barrier after doing extensive research on our people and then publicly sharing what 1 found and continue to find. We have every reason to be proud of who we are. Everything I have ever discovered about our people attests to the fact that they were and are today, a friendly and caring people who treated others with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, as a people we have not had the same treatment accorded to us. Yes, we have been put down by the federal and provincial governments. Yes, we have been put down by the churches. And, yes, we have even been kept down by our own people but, now that we know, we have no excuse, if we don't believe in ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to do so?

The Mi'kmaq were traditionally hunters and gatherers and you know, we are no different today. Think of how important hunting and fishing was to our people who have passed on and how important it is to those of us who are here now. Of the 32 years I lived out of Bay St. George, few days passed that my thoughts were not on the river, little brooks, meadow and woods back of Kippens. I never understood why I felt that way until I discovered, through researching the history of each of my four grandparents, just how much Mi'kmaq blood runs through my veins. More importantly, I feel a kinship and a bond with all the other aboriginal people of Bay St. George and I'm hearing the same comments from many people. No one should ever forget one of the fundamental components of our culture is the right to hunt and fish and this should be a focal point in any discussions and negotiations with the federal government. Throughout history, no aboriginal tribes or bands have ever signed away their rights to hunt and fish in any treaties and we should not negotiate away ours. If we are not careful, our own rights to hunt and fish will be in the hands of outfitters and the price we will then pay will be far greater than government licenses and outfitter fees. We will have then lost a significant part of our culture and heritage and it will be lost forever.

Aboriginal people in all other parts of Canada traditionally have bargained from the perspective of securing a better life for the next seven generations. We should be no different. If ever there was a time when our people should speak as one voice it's now. Band elections are near, get the facts and elect leaders who share your vision for the future. Get involved! Your opinion is valuable and your vote counts. Finally, it is nice to give thanks, and Evelyn Campbell and the many families on the Port au Port peninsula sincerely thank Laveme Cormier for the great amount of work she has contributed in helping families on the peninsula with researching their documentation for band membership. Laverne, I thank you as well. Also, there's a great new site on the net set up by Jasen Benwah, check it out at www3.nf.sympatico.ca/benwah/mikmaq.htm.

Copyright 2002 Burt Alexander

As appeared in Vol. 32 No. 9, March 5-11, 2002 issue of THE GEORGIAN newspaper


The 'old ones' would be proud

by Bert Alexander

There's a flurry of activity around the bay these days, especially in the parish administration offices at St. Stephen's in Stephenville and St. Joseph's in St. George's. And, there's also a flutter of conversations in every community, large and small, in the whole Bay St. George area that have not been heard around here until recent times.

What's causing all of this commotion? Well, it's family ancestry of course. From the Codroy Valley to Cape St. George and all points in between, the topic of countless conversations is just that, family ancestry. "Who do you come under?" is becoming as common a question as "Did you hear the forecast for the weekend?"

Never have there been so many requests for copies of baptismal, marriage and even death certificates. St. Stephen's and St. Joseph's parishes maintain the vast majority of ancestral records for Bay St. George and include the Sandy Point records dating back to 1850. Any documents that can confirm parents, grandparents, and beyond have become almost invaluable to present day seekers.

Throughout the country in fact, individuals and even whole families are scurrying to find a particular census report, a paragraph from an old or not so old book, or even a handwritten not that a great grandfather may have written many years ago. Perhaps such a note identified a long lost relative who somehow has become an important figure today, on e who may be that missing link in a search that has become an obsession.

Of course there is a particular reason why so many people are all of a sudden so interested in finding out about their ancestors. People are starting to discover that their ancestors were aboriginal so, naturally, they are aboriginal as well.

Many people may say OK, you have aboriginal blood in you, so what? Well years ago I might have echoed the very same statement. That is until I started researching not only my own family origins, but perhaps more importantly, my people as a community, where they lived, how they lived, and the other people that made up the community my lived in.

The results of my ongoing research to date have caused me to go through a roller coaster of emotion at times, from excitement to sadness and unfortunately even anger on occasion. Overall, though, I am excited. But, there's a story that has to be told, a story that books are made of.

In my research over the yeas I have had the opportunity to meet and speak with many people from diverse backgrounds all consumed with the same zeal for knowledge and the truth. These include my friend Allan Stride, a well known and respected researcher and writer originally from St. George's, now living in Ottawa, Dr. Raymond Halbot in Edmonton, Alberta, Richard Deny in Eskasoni, Cape Breton, and Phil Jeddore in Conne River plus many more all over the country.

Just as important as those are the countless people I've met right here at home, many of whom, I found out were actually relatives of mine that I had never met nor had I even heard of. I do recall my grandparents speaking briefly on occasion, that we had relatives on the Port au Port Peninsula or in Curling or Sydney, Nova Scotia, and they would sometimes speak of Little Bras d'Or, Cape Breton as if it meant something special to them. I never understood that until I recently discovered that Bras d'Or as a common place to many of the ancestors of families presently living in Bay St. George.

As people here continue to search for their forgotten identity with the past, I see the excitement in their faces and the gleam in their eyes. It's as if suddenly they feel connected to something, and while they may not fully understand the significance of that connection, it makes them feel good and it makes me feel good too.

In upcoming articles each month, I look forward to sharing much more information on our aboriginal roots. I believe the spirit of our ancestors has been reawakened right here in Bay St. George and I think that's a good thing as well. I also think the old ones would be proud.

As appeared in Vol. 32 No. 5, Febraury 5-11, 2002 issue of THE GEORGIAN newspaper


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Posted on March 8, 2002

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