Hoping for change in the next 25 years
In reference to your article in The Western Star, June 26, 2002, "Mi'Kmaq abandon federation, form new alliance". I say "hurray" and tip my hat to Chief Bert Alexander. I think it is time for a change and improvements for the Mi'Kmaq people of Bay St. George and all of Newfoundland. I feel the present chiefs (excluding Chief Dawson of St. George's, a newcomer on the scene) and Federation of Newfoundland Indians has done very little to improve the quality of life for the Mi'Kmaq people the last 25 years. This included all the chiefs in the Bay St. George region.
I have been a member of the Bay St. George Indian Band Council and the StephenvilIe-Stephenville Crossing Band Council for approximately 25 years.
After presenting my documentation (which was OK'd by Dorothy Anger, anthropologist and her assistant Marlene Companion) to Chief Ben White I was sent a letter from Chief Ben White stating that I did not qualify for membership in the StephenvilIe-Stephenville Crossing Indian Band Council. He did not state why I did not qualify, and did not offer me any assistance to become a member. According to Brendan Sheppard's speech at one of our meetings, he stated that the duty of the chief was to help any band member (which I was until this time, membership paid in full) in any possible way he could help. What happened here? I think because of a court case in May, 2001, which I won against Chief Ben White and the board of directors of Deer Pond Camps Ltd., he did not want me in the band.
This is only one of the many stories of upsets and torments dished out by the chiefs past and present of the Bay St. George Indian Band and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians.
It is a known fact that the federal government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Bay St. George area and has nothing to show for the money spent.
It seems to me that everything is done in hushed tones and secret. Now is the time for change, the new alliance is accepting applications from all individuals who meet the prescribed criteria for membership. Join now to help to improve the quality of life of the Mi'Kmaq people.
Nothing has happened in the past 25 years. Now with Chief Bert Alexander's guidance and good will things will change for the better for our people.
Maybe even I, with my proper documentation, will be accepted in the New Alliance of Mi'Kmaq people.
Stan Baldwin, Stephenville
The Western Star - letter to the editor,
July 4, 2002
NEWS RELEASE – JUNE 24, 2002
The Ktaqamkuk (Taga-ma-goog) Mi’kmaq Alliance has been established to serve the needs of the Mi’kmaq people throughout the province of Newfoundland and Labrador who have become frustrated and angry over the way they have been treated by the Federation of Newfoundland Indians. The mandate of the Mi’kmaq Alliance is to promote and foster the cultural, economic, social and educational best interests of its members and it is presently accepting applications from all individuals who meet the prescribed criteria for membership.
The Mi’kmaq Alliance has opened its boundaries to the entire Bay St. George area as well as other Mi’kmaq communities in the province outside of Conne River. It will encourage membership and will assist qualified individuals to join and take an active part in the aboriginal movement. The Mi’kmaq Alliance believes that membership in a Mi’kmaq band or organization is a birthright not a privilege. The Mi’kmaq Alliance will be a transparent, non-profit organization working totally on behalf of the Mi’kmaq people of the province and expects its membership to reach into the thousands in the coming months.
Its objective is to gain full status under Canada’s Indian Act, something the FNI has apparently not had the resolve or the desire to do over the past 30 years for whatever reasons. The Mi’kmaq Alliance will conduct its affairs in a manner consistent with the guidelines being sought by the Hon. Robert Nault, Federal Minister of Indian Affairs. Mr. Nault is proposing to revise the Indian Act to make band chiefs more open, more responsible and more accountable to the people, something the leadership of the Mi’kmaq Alliance has been promoting for some time.
The president of FNI and the chiefs of bands who serve as directors on the FNI board have refused to respect the will of FNI members in exercising their democratic process by supporting a former band chief who was defeated in an election called by the people by a margin of 226-12. In addition, the FNI appears to have discriminated against many Mi’kmaq people in various parts of the province and at the same time violated their own constitution’s by-laws by providing financial assistance to individuals who do not or did not meet FNI’s own membership criteria.
Add to the foregoing these thought-provoking bits of information. One chief, someone who is supposed to be the leader of an aboriginal band, issued a public statement against a demonstration held by several hundred Mi’kmaq people to prevent the clear-cutting of a traditional hunting area and natural habitat. The whole FNI organization should have been supporting this initiative. One June 21st National Aboriginal Day was celebrated across the country but not even a mention of this from FNI. Then we hear in the news that the St. George’s Indian Band is spearheading a movement to preserve the old courthouse in St. George’s. Preserving a courthouse could hardly be a tribute to our culture or history. That is like honoring a residential school as having been something good for the aboriginal people.
Another issue to note is that after years of prohibiting the Mi’kmaq people of the Port au Port Peninsula from joining an FNI affiliated band, the FNI finally gave in as a result of reported pressure from the Hon. Ernest McLean, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs for Newfoundland & Labrador. On December 9, 2002 the Port au Port Indian Band extended its boundaries to allow-in approximately 500 new members. That was short-lived however. On June 17th at a special meeting of the band where a member could attend by invitation only, those present voted to rescind the boundary to its original position thereby effectively ejecting approximately 500 members from the band’s ranks. An unconfirmed report indicates that about 40 people attended this special meeting. What about the other 500 members? Is that the way democracy works?
One of the major reasons for establishing the Mi’kmaq Alliance was a document titled the 2002 Mi’kmaq Regime, a set of guidelines for talks with the federal government which was prepared by FNI and presented to the Hon. Robert Nault, the Federal Minister of Indian Affairs back on January 21, 2002. The Mi’kmaq Alliance believe this is a sell-out of the Mi’kmaq people of Newfoundland and that the federal government is responsible and should be held accountable for abandoning its constitutional responsibility to the Mi’kmaq people when Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949. We are not less than other first nation’s people in the province are or in other parts of Canada are so why should we be treated as less. Should an agreement ever be reached based on the guidelines of the 2002 Mi’kmaq Regime it will be a great deal for the federal government but a very bad deal for the Mi’kmaq people. That’s why the Mi’kmaq Alliance wants to chart its own course and deal with the federal government directly.
In 1949 the federal government, with the assistance of the provincial government attempted to assimilate the Mi’kmaq people into the mainstream Newfoundland population but it didn’t work out as they planned because we’re back and we’re not happy. In 1986 the federal government discriminated against the vast majority of Mi’kmaq people once again when they approved status for Conne River while excluding thousands of Mi’kmaq people from other parts of the province. Where has the FNI been since 1986? Conne River is not part of FNI because they don’t need to be, therefore, why do we need to be part of FNI to achieve our objectives?
The newly formed Mi’kmaq Alliance is providing an option that existing FNI members and other Mi’kmaq people have not had in the past. Any individual residing within the province or elsewhere who was born here and can provide documented proof of immediate family and ancestral Mi’kmaq relationships will be eligible to join. The Mi’kmaq Alliance will conduct its affairs in an open and fair manner and treat each member with respect.
Over the coming months an assessment will be conducted in each community to specifically determine the needs of the respective Mi’kmaq communities and individuals. This information will be compiled and analyzed to determine the course of action to be taken with the federal government in settling a number of outstanding issues and to secure benefits for the people equal to those obtained by first nation’s communities across Canada.
Support for the Mi’kmaq Alliance has already been received from a number of communities in the province, some of whom have never had the assistance or representation of FNI in the past. It is determined to obtain programs, services and benefits that will serve the best interests of all the people, not just selected individuals or families as has been experienced in the past by a number of FNI bands and supported by FNI. The Mi’kmaq Alliance is aware that nothing happens overnight, however after 53 years of neglect by the federal government and after 30 years of unacceptable progress by FNI a better deal is worth waiting for and certainly worth fighting for.
The Mi’kmaq Alliance does not intend to make its decisions as a result of any kind of fear tactics prompted by anyone, be it the federal or provincial governments and certainly not the Federation of Newfoundland Indians.
Ktaqamkuk Mi’kmaq Alliance
Telephone: (709) 643-9679
Port au Port. A demonstration at a woods access road near Romain's River Saturday is only the first of a number of planned protests, according to organizer Bruce Alexander.
While the demonstration was organized by Alexander, a member of the Indian Head First Nations Indian Band Council. Saturday's event involved mostly members of the Port au Port Band Council. About 60 people stretched out along the roadway near Romain's River Bridge and across the access road protesting what Alexander said is a plan by the Department of Forestry to "strip the valley wood."
He said this is a message to the department that they won't let it happen.
By Tuesday, Alexander said, they expect to have a petition containing between 4,000 to 4,500 names to be presented to the department.
He said they are planning more demonstrations and have letters sent out to Canadian Imperial Venture Corporation in regards to Garden Hill oil development and to Atlantic Minerals regarding their plans for Mi'kmaq property on which they are operating.
Alexander said they have told the representatives they have until June 26 to reply and discuss what they are doing "to our land."
He said if they do not reply, this is two sites they will be protesting and threatens more will follow. Alexander said the entire island of Newfoundland is documented as Mi'kmaq land in all treaties and is part of hunting and fishing territories of all Mi'kmaq nations. He said they will take nothing less than full status.
He said they have no other choice but to negotiate with them.
However, organized bands under the umbrella of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians said they are not associated with these protests and are currently working a regime that they feel will provide benefits to their members.
About 60 people were involved in a demonstration at an access road near Romain's River on Saturday to protest what they say are plans by the Department of Forestry to build more roads and strip out the valley of wood. Here, they are seen with placards during that protest, which of a number planned for the Bay St. George area.
The Western Star
June 17, 2002 issue
Note from Thunder Cloud: It is worth mentioning that chiefs from local FNI bands were on local media distancing themselves from the Mi'kmaq protesters and making it very clear that they did not support or participate in the protests.
1 Oceanview Drive
Kippens, NF A2N-3C4
PRESS RELEASE - JUNE 13, 2002
THE PORT AU PORT INDIAN BAND COUNCIL IS RAISING SERIOUS QUESTIONS ABOUT THE MOTIVES OF THE FEDERATION OF NEWFOUNDLAND INDIANS AND WONDERING WHY THE FNI CONTINUES TO DISCRIMINATE AGAINST ITS OWN MEMBERS THROUGHOUT THE PROVINCE.
THE FNI IS CONTINUING TO SUPPORT A FORMER CHIEF OF THE BAND WHO WAS DEFEATED IN A MAY 9TH ELECTION BUT WHO REFUSES TO TRANSFER THE BAND’S ASSETS TO THE NEWLY ELECTED CHIEF AND COUNCIL. NOW IT HAS BEEN LEARNED THAT THIS FORMER CHIEF DOES NOT MEET THE MEMBERSHIP REQUIREMENTS OF THE FNI AND HAS NO DOCUMENTATION TO PROVE THAT SHE IS MI’KMAQ.
AS A RESULT OF THESE FINDINGS HER MEMBERSHIP IN THE PORT AU PORT INDIAN BAND WAS TERMINATED ON JUNE 10th. HOWEVER, SHE CONTINUES TO HOLD HERSELF OUT AS CHIEF OF THE BAND AND THE PRESIDENT OF FNI AND THE FNI CHIEFS CONTINUE TO SUPPORT HER EVEN THOUGH SHE DOESN’T MEET THEIR OWN CRITERIA FOR MEMBERSHIP. THE FNI THEREFORE IS IN VIOLATON OF ITS OWN CONSTITUTION AND BY-LAWS.
THE PORT AU PORT INDIAN BAND COUNCIL IS REQUESTING THAT THE FORMER CHIEF IMMEDIATELY TURN OVER ALL BAND ASSETS AND RESPECT THE RIGHTS OF ITS MEMBERS AND THAT THE FNI STOP FRUSTRATING THE WORK OF THE PORT AU PORT INDIAN BAND IN REPRESENTING ITS MEMBERS.
PORT AU PORT INDIAN BAND
Bruce Alexander, a member of the Indian Head First Nations Band Council, is organizing a series a protests by the Mi'kmaq people in the Kippens-Port au Port area.
The Mi'Kmaq will protest a proposed Department of Forest Resources and Agrifoods access road to allow clear-cutting in the area. The first protest will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday at the access road next to Romain's Bridge. "We will not allow clear-cutting to happen," said Alexander.
Alexander recently attended a meeting called by the department where he learned they want to extend the road at Romain's River five-and-a-half kilometres beyond where it currently ends.
He said the reason given for putting in the access road is that the province wants to reclaim blown down wood. But Alexander believes it's pan of their five-year plan to clear-cut the whole area. The department wants to extend the road in Mine Road behind Fox Island, according to Alexander, and connect it with this new road which would result in clear-cutting the whole valley in the Whaleback Mountain area.
Alexander said while he is a member of the Indian Head First Nations Band Council, which comprises Stephenville and Stephenville Crossing, he has called on the members of the Port au Port Council to support him as this land lies within the boundaries of Port au Port band.
Petitions being circulated against the proposal already contain between 2,000 and 2,500 names, he said. Alexander expects between 800 to 1,200 people to take part in the demonstration, which he said will be peaceful. He said he has already notified RCMP of the demonstration, which has the intent of sending a strong message.
Alexander said he has invited Gerald Smith, Liberal legislature member for Port au Port, to attend the event. He said five other sites are earmarked for protests during the next several weeks in locations throughout the Bay St. George area.
The Western Star. June 13, 2002
Mr. Bruce Alexander's letter, "Losers of band election should accept defeat" in the May 21-27 edition of the Georgian, was a little hard to swallow considering he is contesting the election which was recently held in the Indian Head First Nations Band. It is quite obvious that being exposed to the democratic process was a new experience for him also.
He goes on to say that "the Federation of Newfoundland Indians should stick to their primary goals and leave the handling of band business to band members."
If Mr. Alexander was running for chief of the Indian Head First Nations Band, one can only assume he is a member of that particular band and should therefore heed his own advice and leave the handling of Port-au-Port Indian Band business to the band members.
Letter to the Editor
May 28-June 3, 2002 issue
By SUE BAILEY
OTTAWA (CP) — Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault is set to launch a national bid to raise native education rates that lag far behind levels attained by non-natives.
An expert panel is to advise the minister by next fall on how to take action the auditor general has stressed is urgently needed.
Many questions must be answered, Nault said in an interview.
"Is it about a legislative vacuum that we need to fill? .. .Is it about money?"
Former auditor general Denis Desautels reported in April 2000 that it would take more than 20 years for native students to match non-native high school graduation rates unless Indian Affairs acted fast.
"We believe that more and faster progress is urgently needed," Desautels said at the time.
About 117,000 students who live on reserves are enrolled in elementary and secondary schools, including 69,000 who attend band-managed schools, his report found.
Of the total, 18 per cent drop out before finishing Grade 9, compared with three per cent of non-native students, Desautels said.
About 30 per cent of native people aged 18 to 20 had finished high school, compared to 63 per cent of non-natives in the same age group.
The Indian Act authorizes Nault's department to oversee education for status Indians.
But Indian Affairs has struck several deals in recent decades to hand related duties over to the provinces and most of Canada's more than 600 native bands.
Ottawa's role in native education is no longer clearly defined, Desautels concluded.
"As a consequence, the department's accountability for results is weakened and its assurance that education funding is being spent appropriately is, at best, unclear."
Almost $ 1 billion — 20 per cent of the Indian Affairs $4.9 billion budget — was earmarked for elementary and secondary education last year.
Nault could offer few details on what is planned to fix the situation, but said he's ready to move after getting advice from a panel that's still being compiled.
"You can't build an economy ... without an educated society."
Nault has asked the Assembly of First Nations, Canada's largest native rights group, to take part, he said.
But the assembly vice-chief specializing in education said no proposal has been received.
"We haven't seen anything formally from Minister Nault," said Perry Bellegarde, representing Saskatchewan.
"There's no question that we have to get our First Nations people trained, educated and working," he added in an interview. "But we have to be involved in a very meaningful and substantive way.
"We need to start developing our own curricula and institutions that . . . don't just meet but exceed provincial standards."
Many native children lose interest in school because of crippling poverty, troubled home lives and course materials that don't reflect their culture, Bellegarde said.
Federal funding for native special education falls far short of demand, and 9,000 qualified native students are waiting for post-secondary funds that are capped at about $288 million a year, he said.
More money is needed "if the people of Canada and the government expect to get First Nations people off welfare."
Scott Garnier, a member of the St. George's Indian Band Council, said a letter recently sent to Port au Port Indian Band members is nothing more than a scare tactic on behalf of (The Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI). The letter states that the Port au Port Band will not benefit from the 2002 Mi'kmaq Regime because of its vote against the regime. Garnier said that statement is false. As long as the Port au Port band is an affiliate member of the FNI, it is entitled to all privileges and financing other bands within the membership enjoy, regardless of the no vote, he said. Giving the Port au Port group anything less would be discrimination. given their good standing as FNI members.
He feels these exploratory talks on the Mi'kmaq Regime will not go ahead as long as there is a no vote from the Port au Port organization. "Brendan Sheppard. president of the FNI. in his letter states that "in the event that Mr. Marc Lalonde recommends to the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs that we proceed with negotiations.' This phrase 'in the event" tells me that there are no negotiations scheduled or in place as of yet." Garnier said.
He noted that Sheppard also wrote in the letter that the Port au Port hand can pursue the type of recognition that it feels it desires through its own process, whether it is through negotiations or in the courts.
Garnier wonders why the FNI decided to follow a watered down negotiations scheme - such as the 2002 Mi'kmaq Regime - rather than taking the federal government to court.
With all the aboriginal cases won across the country in recent years, as well as the fact that Newfoundland Mi'kmaq were left out of the terms of union in 1949, that Newfoundland aboriginal people have a very good case, he said. Maybe the Port au Port hand should follow up with an independent court proceeding with the federal government for recognition, he suggested.
"I can only surmise that the federal government is dictating to the FNI what they want to see done to the off-reserve Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland -and it's not good," Garnier said.
Pamphlets on the 2002 Mi'kmaq Regime were handed out to Port au Port Indian Band members a month prior to the May 2 vote. Members had ample time to see what was to be included in the regime, and they simply didn't like what they saw, he said. Garnier said Sheppard. in his letter. states that the FNI is willing to clarify and discuss any concerns and "misinformation" members may have had with respect to the regime.
"This is an insult to the people of the Port au Port Peninsula." Garnier said. "They had the information, they deliberated, and their verdict was no.
"What part of "no" does the FNI not understand? It is clear that the FNI wanted a yes vote to proceed with the regime and, now that they can't gel it. they are resorting to intimidation tactics (and) playing on the fears of their own hand members."
The Western Star
May 31, 2002
Regarding the "Major row in local Mi'kmaq band". The Georgian, May 14-20, it would appear that the rules of fair play are creating some havoc on the Port-au-Port Peninsula regarding the recent Indian band elections. Fair play being the key word. This row, or disagreement has a very simple solution. To all the past executive who were voted out of office, accept the will of the members who voted you out.
The past chief and executive were in attendance during the nomination meeting, discussed a date for the elections of the new executive and announced to all those in attendance when the elections would take place. It is not like this election was news to those who lost their seats. However, it is similar to small children when one doesn't like the rules of the game and takes their toys home. Well, I guess the past executive have taken their toys home.
It is quite obvious that being exposed to the democratic process is a new experience for them. One which we hope to be exposed to on a more regular basis in the future.
Also in this article it states that the Federation of Newfoundland Indians are expected to get involved to settle this disagreement. The federation should stick to its primary goals and leave the handling of band business to band members. With respect to the primary goal of the federation, it states on their website the following, "The Primary goal of the FNI is official recognition for its members either through a self-government process or the Indian Act."
This information needs immediate attention and major changes. FNI preaches one thing on their website and follows another mandate with respect to the members of the bands.
Maybe FNI will also take their toys and go home. We can only hope.
From the Georgian newspaper for the week of May 21-27, 2002
By BRUCE ALEXANDER
(Excerpt from the Western Star Newspaper, May 22, 2002)
Dear Editor: The "2002 Mi'kmaq Regime" document is flawed and contradictory within itself.
Initial reading and attaining some level of comprehension regarding the content of the above noted document will identify some good points. However, reviewing this document and linking specific items from one section to another will show how this document actually contradicts itself within the text. From a visual perspective, and for those who have limited knowledge with respect to proposal writing and more specifically negotiations, this document would appear like a good deal.
However, we need to put all the components of this document and related documents on the table prior to deciding if this is indeed a good deal for all the members of the bands attached to the Federation of Newfoundland Indians. For the purpose of this article and to expose some of these contradictions, I will use a copy of the 2002 Mi'kmaq Regime and also other written documentation I have obtained.
On page 4 of the 2002 Mi'kmaq Regime document it states. "In consultation with the minister of Labrador and Indian Affairs. Mr.. Earnest McLean. the FNI have received a verbal note of support from the province toward an agreement. As Mr. McLean himself said "the FNI hands are no different than the other aboriginal people in NF & LB".
If we are no different than why on page 11 of the same document does FNI state under Federal Recognition the following, "the FNI are not presently requesting to establish recognition as bands under the Indian Act or to set reserves for their members". If we are seen as the same by this member of parliament, why are we treated as different by FNI?
Also on page 11 of the 2002 Mi'kmaq Regime document it states, "the FNI will establish a registration committee that will consist of a federal representative, provincial representative, FNI representative and an independent representative". Yet on page 15 it states "The FNI will not accept imposition of federal/provincial vision on our bands".
This is a very interesting contradiction. On page 11, FNI is inviting federal and provincial say into the membership and on page 15 telling them they can have no say. For those who have been, or are intending to, check you mail box for your federal money as part of this agreement, on page 13 of the 2002 Mi'Kmaq Regime and I quote, "honoraria for council and expenses arising from the council business".
In other words, pay the elected council members for their work. There is no mention of financial restitution for others members of the bands.
It is quite clear why this document is being forced down our throats.
On Dec. 31, 2001, FNI received a correspondence outlining specific questions regarding discussions with the federal government.
Question 2. Are we seeking status under the Indian Act? Reply of Jan. 9, 2002, "Yes we are seeking status under the Indian Act". I wonder what happen between Jan. 9 and Jan. the 21 when the 2002 Mi'kmaq Regime was penned.
Question 4.Who has determined what the needs are for our people? What are these needs? Reply of Jan. 9, 2002, "The Band Council Chiefs have outlined what they believe are the needs of their members.
It is impossible to have every member involved in determining need requirement". Imagine the chiefs of the bands having the capacity to identify needs of families without even asking them.
The 2002 Mi'kmaq Regime document has a major tone of community development, yet the components of this document do not conform to recognized approaches for community development.
For example, on page 15 of the document, FNI outlines three areas where it will accept assistance from the federal government.
The Federation of Newfoundland Indians was incorporated in 1972. One would think that an organization which has been in place for 30 years and representing the Mi'kmaq outside of Conne River would have some good ideas and over a 30-year period made extensive contacts. Presenting a discussion paper on the future of our people and communities and seeking assistance with a strategic plan contradicts the purpose of FNI.
Considering the fact that FNI has been operating for thirty years and now will accept help from the government to assist in the development of programs, we seriously need to revisit the purpose of FNI and if indeed it is fulfilling its mandate. If FNI needs a guide for choices and actions after all these years and taking into consideration how we were excluded from all these programs in 1949, we are in serious trouble.
In conclusion, I could certainly continue with how unacceptable this 2002 Mi'kmaq Regime document really is and why it would be fully accepted by the present day governments.
It weighs heavy on the side of the government, has basically nothing for our people except for a few and exhibits a total disrespect to our culture, and the membership, for the atrocity inflicted on the Mi'kmaq people in Newfoundland in 1949.
(Bruce Alexander lives in Stephenville.)
It's time that the aboriginal movement really started moving in Bay St. George and perhaps it is. Certainly not because of the recent election results for the Stephenville/Stephenville Crossing Indian Band, but because many, many people I speak with are just plain fed up with the lack of development over the past 30 years. The old sayings rings out loud and clear, if you want to have change in your life, then you have to have change in your life and we surely need some changes in our movement.
This was evident a few weeks ago when a news release out of Nova Scotia stated that Grand Chief Dan Silliboy, speaking on behalf of chiefs throughout the Maritimes, declared that the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq were also heirs of a treaty signed in 1760-61 granting hunting and fishing rights. This ratified a treaty signed in 1725.
It was also interested to not that, Chief Silliboy referred to the Mi'kmaq population in Newfoundland as numbering 800-1000 people. He was of course referring to the Conne River band. But, what about the thousands of documented aboriginals living in Bay St. George? Why have our chiefs not made any public comments on this issue? After 30 years of being an organization, we still have no effective, public voice and apparently few people out there know that we even exist.
That was certainly the case for the people on the Port au Port Peninsula who had been trying for years to become members of the same federation that other Mi'kmaq bands belong to. They have only now been permitted membership. I was also made aware of our lack of public recognition recently when a local band member called the Dept. of Indian Affairs in Ottawa and was told that they weren't aware of any Indian Bands in Bay St. George. The only one they knew about was the one in Conne River.
It appears that we have become a silent majority in Bay St. George. But, the last thing we should be is silent. The danger of not speaking out is that when the federal government finally acknowledges that we exist and that we are not going away, we might accept some kind of watered-down offer for fear of not getting anything better in the future.
Our people should not have to make any decisions based on fear. Never in our history have we had an opportunity as we have before us right now. Today we have the documented evidence of who we are and what we are and perhaps of equal importance is the fact that we now have the numbers and numbers get things done politically.
There is something much bigger happening here, bigger than any single one of us, and I would guess that few understand the significance of it. The Mi'kmaq people are emerging from a long, long sleep and it is the people who have the power and the people are becoming aware of this and along with that power will come the control to protect things like hunting, fishing, environment, economic development, etc.
The benefits that have been allocated to the aboriginal people of Bay St, George over the years have been scarce at best. For the people on the Port au Port Peninsula it has been nothing. In fact, benefits should have been accruing since 1949 when Newfoundland joined Canada.
I have been told that we have, at present, more documentation than Conne River had when they received federal recognition. Why then, should we not be given full status under the Federal Indian Act so that we might avail of programs accorded Conne River and other aboriginal communities across Canada including hunting and fishing rights? It's true that the federal government wants to abolish the act but if we fell under it we would at least be in the same boat as other aboriginal communities in Canada.
The Federal Indian Act was not declared in Newfoundland in 1949. Instead, the federal government and the government of Newfoundland decided that the best way to handle the aboriginal people in the province would be to assimilate them into mainstream population. It almost worked but not quite. We are alive and well.
Think about it, what benefits have you personally received in the past? How many of you have had educational funding for your children? Have any of you or people you know of had any problems getting assistance with your documentation so you could take your rightful place as a band member? Why is it only now that we are finding out who we really are?
There are those out there, and we know who they are, who would instill fear into the minds of our people by telling them untruths such as, elect a certain person for chief, or the band might have to close down. What nonsense! Would the town cease to exist if a new mayor were to be elected?
There are those who say that if a reserve was set up in the area that people would lost their personal property. What nonsense! There are those out there who believe if they declare they are Indian they would lose their old age security benefits. Nonsense! Conne River people get pension benefits. I have it in writing.
This is a time when we must focus all of our energies on the future, not to what we've done or didn't do in the past. But, in order to do that we must have vision and know where we want to get to and what we want to achieve. This is a time when we must put aside any personal disputes we might have, no matter how strongly we feel about them. This is a time to put aside selfish individual interests and work together for the benefit of all the people.
The more successful our movement becomes, the better it will be for every individual band member. Let's become a proud people once again, not hidden under a blanket of secrecy and doubt.
Let's look to the future with vision and confidence and though we may be many people, let's be of one voice. And for those who criticize this approach, ask them what benefits they have received for themselves or their dependents.
It's time we take control of our future. If not us, then who? Now that we know, we have no excuse.
by Bert Alexander, Special to the Georgian
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