Indigenous

Court ruling puts more scrutiny on Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation enrolment process

Six applicants to Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation should be reinstated on the band's membership list pending a determination of the validity of a supplemental agreement that affected the enrolment process, according to a recent Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court decision.

Judge rules plaintiffs had the right to 'question the legitimacy of actions of the FNI'

The Qalipu M'ikmaq First Nations may stand to be the largest in Canada once the controversial enrolment process is complete. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Six applicants to Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation should be reinstated on the band's membership list pending a determination of the validity of a supplemental agreement that affected the enrolment process, according to a recent Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court decision.

The decision by Supreme Court Justice Gillian D. Butler leaned in the direction of the plaintiffs, Shawn Benoit, Matthew Anderson, Bobbie Tapp Goosney, Paul Bennett, Jennifer Sur Le Roux, and Marie Melanson, but stopped short of directly affecting the much-debated Qalipu enrolment process. 

Justice Butler's decision, a declaration directed at Canada and Qalipu to accept the six as original founding members of Qalipu, was welcomed by plantiff Marie Melanson.

"It was uplifting. It gave me some hope," said Melanson.

"I have faith that this process will clear this up and right a wrong, because this is wrong."

Melanson and the other five plaintiffs had been among the 10,500 members of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians (FNI) when it voted to sign an agreement-in-principle with Canada, effectively creating Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation. As the band began to take shape, they were all added to Qalipu's first founding members list. 

Supplemental agreement's validity questioned

But when Qalipu enacted the supplemental agreement on enrolment in 2013, they were all removed from the list, stripping them of their Indian status. Their appeals were denied.

St. John's lawyer Keith Morgan argued on the six applicants' behalf that the FNI didn't have the corporate authority to sign the supplemental agreement, because the decision was not put to a vote.

Morgan's case was based on the result of the FNI's annual general assembly in October 2009 where a resolution, passed by a majority of those in attendance, changed the organization's corporate structure.

"They never anticipated that there'd be a supplemental agreement in 2013," said Morgan.

"So therefore they stripped down their membership to have a lean governance structure so they could simply shepherd the [agreement creating Qalipu] through to its conclusion."  

Morgan argued that decision to sign the supplemental agreement should have been carried out the same way the FNI decided to sign the agreement with Canada creating Qalipu — under corporate law.

Many applicants have said the application and appeal process for membership in the Qalipu First Nation was frustrating. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

In her ruling, Justice Butler agreed, stating that the six plaintiffs had the right to "question the legitimacy of actions of the FNI."  

Her decision said that until the validity of the supplemental agreement is determined by Qalipu and Canada (through ongoing court cases and subsequent measures) the six plaintiffs should be reinstated on the founding members list and that the FNI must take all steps necessary to see that they remain on it. 

Morgan said a question still stands as to whether or not the rest of 10,500 FNI members could see the same thing.

New founding members list expected soon

The court documents containing Butler's decision said a new Order in Council was expected to address a new founding members list on June 25, but Crown-Indigenous Affairs Relations and Northern Affairs Canada did not respond to CBC's requests for information. 

Requests for updates on the enrolment process were not returned by Qalipu Chief Brendan Mitchell.

Marie Melanson said despite some lingering uncertainty about what comes next for the Qalipu, the recent decision has offered the plaintiffs some relief.

"It will make us feel like part of the community," she said.

"We'll be sharing and learning and participating in our heritage to make our nation proud."

About the Author

Nic Meloney

Videojournalist

Nic Meloney is a Wolastoqew video journalist raised on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia/Mi'kma'ki. Email him at nic.meloney@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @nicmeloney.