A case study on what it means to be Aboriginal

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The federal government has been astonished at how many Newfoundlanders believe they're Aboriginal. Applications to join a Mi'kMaq band have soared to 100,000 people. Fears the government is going to change the enrollment criteria and exclude applicants has set off angry protests in the province as well as a chaotic debate over just what it means to be Aboriginal.



Co-Founder of the Qalipu First Nation, Calvin White

On November 30, 2007 Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the creation of the Qalipu First Nation. You heard him suggest about "7 thousand - 8 hundred" people belonged to it.

People were encouraged to apply for band membership if they thought they qualified. So far, one-hundred-thousand people believe they do. If everyone is accepted, the Qalipu would be by far Canada's largest band. Impressive for a province that once thought all the island's indigenous people had been killed by violence and disease back in the 19th century.

The federal government has put a brake on the whole enrollment process, disbanding the enrollment committee! It took that committee four years to study 30, 000 applications, of which 23,000 were accepted.

Today, more than 70,000 applications remain on the table. Those applicants are angry, and some protested earlier this week outside the Qalipu First Nation office in Corner Brook.

Qalipu Chief Brendan Sheppard didn't meet with the protesters and he declined our request for an interview. Erika Lavers was at the protest. She had no idea she was Mi'kmaq until a relative told her she was eligible to apply and so she did. We heard from Erika Lavers, a member of a group called the Qalipu Watchdogs. The Watchdogs threaten a class action lawsuit if the federal government doesn't consider their applications.

Calvin White is disappointed that his vision for Mi'kmaq citizenship has become so controversial. He is one of the founding members of the Qalipu First Nation. He spoke to producer Marie Wadden. We also heard from anthropologist Adrian Tanner.

Liberal MP Gerry Byrne

Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal MP Gerry Byrne is one of the 70,000 people waiting to see if their application for membership in the Qalipu First Nation band will be accepted. He joined us from Ottawa.

We requested an interview with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Bernard Valcourt, but he was unavailable.

Advisor to Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Fred Caron

The department has hired a man who now has the unenviable job of trying to sort all of this out. Fred Caron is a former assistant deputy minister, and he's been hired to work with Qalipu First Nation chief, Brendan Sheppard, on the enrollment process. More than 100, 000 Canadians applied for membership. He was in Ottawa.

This segment was produced by St. John's Network Producer, Marie Wadden.

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Other segments from today's show:

The high cost of cheap clothing, the fight against sweatshops continues

A letter to the Prime Minister by Nancy Arias

The story of North Koreans who defect to China and beyond

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