By JEAN EDWARDS STACEY
The Provincial government,, the federal government and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI), which represents about 4,000 local Mi'kmaqs, are starting six months of exploratory discussions to determine if there is a basis for going into full blown negociations concerning FNI access to programs and services.
The outstanding question is whether all members of the federation will get the federal recognition they want.
Robert Nault, federal minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Ernest McLean provincial minister of labrador and aboriginal affairs, and Brendan Sheppard, president of the FNI, made the announcement about the discussions in St. John's on Friday.
"These exploratory discussions are an example of leadership in action," said Nault. "We all agree that no good comes from arguing about the past.
Instead, real leadership is facing today's challenges in a spirit of fairness and with sound judgement and forging alliances to fulfill the promise of days to come. I am confident that the parties will do their utmost to identify a framework for the resolution of issues by agreement, rather than litigation."
Ottawa has appointed former cabinet minister Marc Lalonde as its special representative in the three-party discussions.
Aboriginal lawyer Shane McDonald will represent the FNI. The province will be represented by McLean's department.
Sheppard, spokesman for the FNI, said the fact the Mi'kmaq people of this were not dealth with in the 1949 terms of union makes their situation unique in Canada.
If the exploratory discussions are successful and lead to negotiations and a settlement, he said therc will be benefits — primarily in terms of education and employment.
McLean said part of the exploratory process will be to identify membership criteria as to who would be included as beneficiaries of available programs and services for aboriginal people.
The discussions will also be about determining what kinds of programs and services aboriginal communities need.
"I think there were a number of them mentioned, like education, health, and cultural initiatives — cultural programming is almost a thing of the past, so we really need to bring that back in the language factors," said McLean. "And also in the area of local development, there are funding agencies across the country that have total application to aboriginal comnunities, so they need to be able to access that. This is the kind of exploratory discussions mat this group will be having."
The minister said at this point the talks have no bearing on land claims or "aboriginal rights per, se," but didn't rule out those issues coming down the road." "The focus we have right now is to get into the areas where the communities can be assisted and helped in terms of service provision and program provisions."
Lalonde is hopeful the discussions will result in a "framework"for further negotiations.
I think for the first time we're really exploring with the government of Newfoundland and the FNI whether there is enough agreement under what could be the basis of a formal negociation to proceed to the second stage, which would be the formal nogociation," Lalonde said, adding he has already had meetings with McLean and the FNI, and feels there is a readiness to to arrive at a resolution of disputes that have ongoing for the past 30 years.
Ottawa, the province and the FNI are beginning their discussions in the midst of a lengthy legal battle over the issue of federal recognition.
The federation filed a statement of claim against the federal government in 1989.
Leaders of the 10 Mi'kmaq bands represented by the FNI have been fighting for federal recognition for decades.
But only one, the Conne River band of approximately 700, has been formally recognized as a band.
The Mi'kmaqs living in Conne River, on what is the province's only reserve, were recognized as part of Canada's first nations and granted status under the federal Indian Act in 1985.
This gives them a yearly infusion of between $10 million and $15 million from the federal Department of Indian Affairs. As well, goods delivered to the reserve, including cigaretttes and gas, are sold tax-free to band members.
Conn River band Chief Misel Joe said the highlight of the discussions is that for the first time the province will sit at the same table with the federal governnent and the FNI.
As reported in the Western Star, Saturday, April 13, 2002
HALIFAX (CP) — Mi'kmaq chiefs from across the Maritimes urged governments to extend treaty rights, including access to the fisheries, to Newfoundland's Mi'kmaq.
During a Wednesday meeting, the chiefs signed a proclamation saying Ottawa and Newfoundland's provincial government should recognize all Mi'kmaq in the region are covered by treaties signed between the Crown and Mi'kmaq chiefs in 1760-61. "The Mi'kmaq nation is being shown disrespect by the governments of Newfoundland and Canada when they refuse to acknowledge our brothers and sisters from Newfoundland ... and we feel this is wrong," said Mi'kmaq Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy in a news release.
Other chiefs said the 1999 Donald Marshall decision, which gave natives the right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing, should apply to the Newfoundland Mi'kmaq.
"The decision specifically stated all the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy people of the East Coast had the right to fish, hunt and gather," said Peter Barlow, the co-chair of the congress.
"They didn't say alt but the Mi'kmaq of Newfoundland." There are about 800 to 1000 Mi'kmaq in Newfoundland and Labrador. Most live in the south coast community of Conne River.
Chief Misel Joe of Conne River. First Nation said the proclamation signals that his community can negotiate with the federal government for funds to set up its own fishery.
"Treat us the same, give us the same opportunities to access funds to enhance our communities," he said.
Mi'kmaq communities throughout the Maritimes have received millions of dollars, along with fishing licences and boats, as a result of the Marshall decision.
The Western Star
March 28, 2002 issue
By Bridget Morris
The Mi'Kmaq Resources and Development Band in Stephenville/Stephenville Crossing has a long history of sponsoring post-secondary students.
The band is part of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI). The federation was officially formed in 1972 and represents more than 3,000 non-registered Mi'Kmaqs. Its membership includes people from 10 community bands across Newfoundland and Labrador.
The federation was set up mainly to assist in organizing and uniting Mi'Kmaq people for the purpose of advancing their level of education, training and socio-economic conditions. Their main goal, though, is to maintain the Mi'Kmaq identity.The Stephenville-Stephenville Crossing Band has 400 members, which does not include the population under 19. Roughly, 100-150 youth from the band put applications in each year in order to receive funding to go to college or university. Approximately 80-100 receive funding each year. In order to be eligible for funding. the person would have to prove he or she is of Mi'Kmaq descent. They can demonstrate Mi'Kmaq descent through census statistics, provincial or colonial documentation, church records and/or an affidavit from a person of at least 1/4 Mi'Kmaq descent. Aboriginal client relations officer Hayward Young says the band is willing to take on new members. If they meet the criteria, the executive will take the information and verify the person as a member. They see no problem in doing that. Young says when someone is accepted for sponsorship, the band will pay for tuition, books, registration fees, licensing fees, materials and supplies. They will cover two year programs at a college of one's choice. If someone is planning on going to university, however, they will only cover the last four semesters (two years) toward a degree. When the school year starts, each sponsored student receives a weekly pay cheque. How much money they get depends on the individual's situation. For people not receiving Employment Insurance (E.I.) the highest amount they can get is $100 a week. For people getting E.I., the highest they can get is $180 a week. The amount of money students get is broken up into three sections: $50 for regular allowance, $25 for travel over 34km, and $25 for childcare. In 1999, Joanne Pilgrim was sponsored through a branch of the Mi'Kmaq Resources Development Band called the Newfoundland Native Women's Association. It sponsors women who want to go to college or university and do a non-traditional trade. She was sponsored to do a six-week Windows 98 computer course at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook. She says being sponsored has relieved a lot of financial pressures that she would have had to face if she didn't receive the funding. Pilgrim says, "1 would have went anyway even if I didn't get funding." As a result of going to school Pilgrim has landed a job working full-time for CNM Building Contractors. She has been working there for three years now and loves every minute of it. As of late, the Stephenville/Stephenville Crossing Band has been in the courts trying to get recognized for Indian status. They are still in the courts and if they do get status, the details of what they are entitled to will be negotiated. Sometimes being a part of a larger group of any kind can benefit you in the long run. It can also save you a lot of money especially if you're planning on bettering your situation by furthering your education.
College of the North Atlantic
Fall 2001 edition- page 8
By Madonna Louvelle
Special to the Georgian
Recently, here in Bay St. George, some aboriginal people were very fortunate to have been visited by a most inspirational native from Alaska, Paul Pike. Paul is formerly from Comer Brook, son of Ronald and Bernadette, who now resides in Alaska. He related some of his past history to me as I listened intently. 'My life has been quite a journey, but my embracing of the Mi'kmaw culture has been the biggest blessing of all. I should start by properly introducing myself- My name is Paul Pike; I am Ktaqmkukwa Mi'kmaw - Newfoundland Mi'kmaw. My family is Crow Clan (Gabriel on my mother's side.) I grew up in Elmastukwek (Comer Brook, Bay of Islands) but most of my relatives come from Stephenville Crossing and St. George's. I am of mixed blood, Aboriginal, French and Irish ancestors. I did not grow up with our traditional ceremonies, language or songs; but I did grow up with a void in my life. I guess you could say that I was a circle trying to fit into a square world. My home life was great with a loving family and always having what we needed. My void was more of a spiritual one wanting to make sense of myself and my soul. I questioned my parents and other relatives but no one knew anything about our native ceremonies. I was lucky that any of them would even admit to being Mi'kmaq. I later learned why.
Generations of my ancestors have been taught by authorities in the past to feel shame for being who they were as soon as they were old enough to go to church or school. After generations of being beaten for speaking the language, etc. no one wanted to pass on anything to their children that would oppress or degrade them in this manner. Luckily, there have been some families that managed to protect their culture.
Saqamaw Misel Joe is one of these people. He is the Traditional Saqamaw for all of Ktaqmkuk and he lives in Miaqpukek (Conne River Reservation Chief). There are many others throughout the Island. I enjoy learning from every one of them and with each part of the culture brought back to me, comes a feeling of completeness for my soul.
Most people in Newfoundland know me as a rock guitarist who played the bar scene there for many years. Later, I started touring other parts of Canada with different groups until I ended up joining a group from Montreal who also played in the United States. This is how I ended up in Alaska. I found something there that was kind of hidden at home - a large Native community that was very visible and was included in mostly all local affairs. From the Alaskan people, I learned a lot about who I really was. There was no colonialism in their society which meant that from my perspective the Ntive Peoples felt a little more included in the everyday events. I learned a lot from the elders who talk openly about Native ceremonies and native spirituality.
At home, I would only find this on the Miawpukek Reservation. By learning from other sub-arctic cultures such as the Athabascans, I was also learning about my own culture. The Mi'kmaq and the Athabascans are caribou cultures. After many years of ceremony and prayers, I now feel comfortable with who I am. Traditional singing has become important to me and I have incorporated this into my music. My group, 'Medicine Dream' (www.medicine-dream.com), a contemporary group, composes music that mixes rock with traditional powwow and it has a positive message for all people. The group performs for schools, troubled teen centers, etc. promoting a healthy lifestyle free from alcohol and drugs as well as cultural unity. In Mi'kmaq we say 'Msit Nokamaq', we are all related.
Medicine Dream also performs at large concerts and has been nominated for three music awards in the Native American Music Awards as well as having contributed to a compilation recording that was nominated for best historical recording. The group has been recording since 1995 and currently has released it's cd 'Mawio'mi' (the gathering)international on Canyon Records. The newest release called 'Tomegan Gospem' will be released this summer which is a special project for me. With these songs, I get to talk about some of the issues concerning Mi'kmaq people and the misinformation that has been related to us. I am very excited about this C.D. because it is a chance for me to share with the world a glimpse of Mi'kmaq culture in Newfoundland. It is my prayer that the new generation feel good about who they are and to pass on to their children's children our special traditions so that we will continue to exist and always be a part of this Island of Ktaqmkuk. Welanin - thank you.'
After the story telling, Paul played a drum made in Newfoundland from moose skin and sang in Mi'kmaw. His story and music were so powerful and touching, taking us away from our material world with a feeling of such great relaxation, that it left us all with immense respect for this remarkable individual; but it also left us with a feeling of sadness that he does not reside at home anyore where he could help so many natives with the very numerous problems they have originating from a lack of self-respect, dignity and confidence. Welanin Paul for sharing yourself with us.
As appeared in the Febraury 26 to March 4, 2002 issue of The Georgian.
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Non-status Indians deserve recognition
Recently, I had the great good fortune of meeting two incredible women who just happen to be of Mi'kmaq ancestry. One of these individuals was the chief of the Corner Brook Band Council and the other was the secretary treasurer of the band.
If you're like myself, you may be surprised to learn that Corner Brook even has an Indian band council. Until just a few weeks ago I had no idea that such an organization existed or even that there were enough people of Mi'kmaq descent living outside the reserve at Conne River to be statistically significant. I came across this fact quite inadvertently while doing some research for a cross-cultural perspectives course that I'm enrolled in at Dalhousie University's faculty of social work.
After chatting with these two individuals, I was shocked to learn of the struggle they - the area's Mi'kmaq -are having in convincing government grant them recognition as status Indians.To date, both federal and provincial governments have refused to bestow status on anyone of Indian ancestry who resides outside the Indian reserve at Conne River. To be fair, many of these non-status Indians do receive funding from the federal government that is tunnelled through the Federation of Newfoundland Indians.
Many members of the dominant white (eurocentric) culture don't seem to grasp the central issue concerning the non-status Mi'kmaq in Newfoundland society today. He or she, when commenting on aboriginal issues in this province, will likely begin the discussion with a question similar to the following: "What's the problem with those Indians anyway? They're getting plenty of money from the government?"
Members of the dominant white culture simply fail to understand that everything isn't about money. The central issue for Mi'kmaq's in Newfoundland today isn't money, it's acquiring the legal recognition of their culture and ancestral hack-ground they so richly deserve. The fact that the Mi'kmaq people have maintained any vestiges of their traditional aboriginal culture is truly a testament to the strength and resilience of the Mi'kmaq identity. Despite the best efforts of the British during the 1700s and 1800s to stamp out aboriginal culture in this province, the Mi'kmaq culture has not been obliterated. In fact, thanks to the efforts of the Corner Brook Indian Band Council and dedicated individuals such as Marie Newman and Violet Colson. the Mi'kmaq culture is making a resurgence on the west coast of this province.
Thanks to the efforts of other individuals like Paul Pike. who lias kept the Mi'kmaq language alive, a whole new generation of Mi'kmaq will have the privilege of experiencing their culture in the traditional Mi'kmaq language if they so choose.
The annual Corner Brook Indian Day that was held on the Majestic Lawn in Corner Brook two years ago is a prime example of this reawakening the Mi'kmaq people arc currently experiencing in relation to their traditional culture. That event alone demonstrated the real existence of a Mi'kmaq culture that is beginning to blossom in this region. To deny these people the title and accompanying rights and privileges that go hand in hand with being recogni/ed as a status Indian is nothing short of a crime. Today, although approaching it more subtlety, we are as effectively denying the Mi'kmaq people their legal entitlements as surely as our forefathers did.
I call on all progressive thinking individuals on the west coast to support our brothers and sisters of Mi'kmaq ancestry in their quest for legal recognition hy petitioning government to grant them the status they now seek.
Call the open line shows, write or call your MP and MHA. or just talk to a friend or neighbor about it. Let's start a dialogue now that will help right the most recent wrong to he inflicted upon these proud people. Let's at least try and do better than our forefathers did!(Paul Harris is a resident of Pasadena and a member of The Western Star's Community Editorial Board.)
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