Families divided after Ottawa tells thousands they’re not indigenous | Toronto Star
2017/03/06 1 Comment
I have a lot of sympathy for the people who have had to develop and implementation the criteria used, as well as the people interviewed below whose applications have been denied. Identity is as much if not more subjective and yet needed to be “objectified” for the purpose of status cards:
Belonging. Identity. Who do you think you are? Who do they say you are? For thousands of indigenous Canadians, it’s complicated. Records have been obscured or obliterated through hundreds of years of assimilation. The federal government — from bureaucrats to Indian agents — made these decisions based on the political mandates of the day. First Nations have made their decisions. So have individuals. In this occasional series, The Status Card, Tanya Talaga, the Star’s indigenous affairs reporter, will look at the complexities and who is making these decisions and how.
CORNER BROOK, N.L.—Retired master corporal Matthew Connolly has spread his prized spiritual possessions on his dining room table.
He carefully touches each as he explains its significance. He starts with a beautifully carved drumstick made from the wood of an old sweat lodge. Then he unrolls the red leather case that holds his eagle feather, given for service to the community. He moves to a hand-held drum, then a smudge kit, then a satchel of tobacco.
From his wallet, he retrieves a small, laminated white card to show the words “Teluisi Kelusit Paqtism” — Speaking Wolf, Connolly’s Mi’kmaq name. He grew up proud knowing he is a direct descendant of Mattie Mitchell, the revered trader and explorer who is recognized as a founding father of the Mi’kmaq in western Newfoundland, likely arriving here in the 1700s from Cape Breton.
Connolly, 57, may believe he is indigenous but the government of Canada does not. Connolly was one of 82,630 people who received a letter dated Jan. 31, 2017, from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, denying his application for membership in the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation, a landless band headquartered in Corner Brook, Newfoundland.
His rejection came at the end of an unprecedented enrolment drive that saw 101,000 claiming Mi’kmaq ancestry and applying to join the Qalipu, a band made up of nearly a dozen Newfoundland indigenous communities. Applicants were judged on a points system developed by six government representatives and six from the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI) to assess how Mi’kmaq someone is.
Thirteen points grants membership. Points were given to those who live in one of Newfoundland’s 66 Mi’kmaq communities, and to those who could prove they were culturally involved with the Mi’kmaq before June 2008, when the federal government officially recognized the Qalipu. Points were also given if applicants could produce affidavits that they had engaged in activities such as hunting and powwows, and if they had airline receipts to show frequent visits to Mi’kmaq areas.
But how and why points were given to some but not others has caused endless confusion and can border on the absurd. In many families, some siblings were accepted and others rejected. In the case of twin toddlers, one gained membership and the other did not. The first president of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians was rejected and so was a recent Indspire Awards recipient. Indspire Awards are handed out only to indigenous people.The 100,000 applicants came from across Canada and beyond — from Hong Kong, California and Australia — all claiming Mi’kmaq ancestry. But Ottawa and the Qalipu band council agreed “it was neither reasonable nor credible” to expect that all of them would become members of the First Nation, “particularly given that approximately two-thirds of the applicants did not reside in any of the Mi’kmaq communities targeted for recognition in this initiative,” Qalipu’s website states.
Connolly’s rejection was blunt: “You did not meet the requirements for acceptance by the Mi’kmaq group of Indians of Newfoundland.”
He only received three points. This stunned Connolly, who has a home in Corner Brook, has participated in cultural events and powwows and has worked for the Qalipu band. He believes multiple mistakes were made when his application was assessed and is “emotionally devastated.”