About one hundred demonstrators stood in a circle outside the Qalipu Mi'kmaq office on Church Street in Corner Brook today, demanding to know whether changes are coming to the application process to become members of the aboriginal band.
Protester Pauline Rowsell has already become a card-carrying Qalipu band member, but she was there to support those who are not.
"I'm not fighting for me, I'm fighting for the people who are supposed to be the same as me, treated the same as me, and they are not being treated the same as me," said Rowsell. "Every time (band chief) Mr. Sheppard is asked a question he will not answer it. He's either rude or walks away."
Chief requested extension
Band chief Brendan Sheppard wasn't at today's demonstration, but he has said in the past that the band has asked Ottawa to grant them an extension so that everyone gets a fair hearing.
About 22,000 people applied and have already been accepted as members of the landless band, but about 70,000 more applications have yet to be processed.
An agreement with the federal government which recognizes their status is set to expire at the end of March. Some of the demonstrators at Monday's event said they haven't been able to get a straight answer from Sheppard on what will happen after that.
MP asked for meeting
Gerry Byrne, the Liberal MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, was also at the protest. He wants to know if unprocessed applicants will get the same treatment as those who are already in the band.
"Those that applied within the deadline of November 30th will receive not only a hearing, but a fair hearing based on all the rules and all the past precedents which were used to judge the originally 22-thousand applications that were accepted?" asked Byrne. "Yes or no, Mr. Sheppard?"
Byrne was invited inside the Qalipu office, but said later that he was unable to meet with Sheppard.
"I went in and as you saw what quickly unfolded, the welcome is not very deep or very broad and I was asked to leave," reported Byrne.
A Qalipu councillor later told the crowd that the Sheppard, in addition to working to get an extension on the application process with Ottawa, has also been trying to make sure resources are in place to reduce or improve efficiency to deal with the large backlog of applications.