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BRENDAN SHEPPARD – GOOD NEWS
SPEAKING NOTES – MARCH 30, 2008
On November 30, 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited St. Georges, Newfoundland, to announce that an Agreement-in-Principle had been reached with the Federation of Newfoundland Indians, which would provide an opportunity for the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland to obtain official recognition as status Indians under the Indian Act – a proud day for the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland.Since that day, the FNI has worked tirelessly to ensure our members are informed about the Agreement-in-Principle – involving a comprehensive education program and extensive consultative process during the harsh winter months.
Today, we have gathered and counted all the ballots that have been cast regarding the ratification of the Agreement. We can state unequivocally that our members have been consulted, they have participated in the voting process and have told us loud and clear what they believe is the next step for the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pride that I am announcing that the members of the Federation of Newfoundland Indians have voted to accept the Agreement-in-Principle negotiated with the Government of Canada. Of the # ballots cast, a resounding # per cent, or # votes, were in favour of the Agreement.
What does this mean? This means the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland can now move forward and achieve official recognition under the Indian Act. When Newfoundland joined Confederation, the Mi’kmaq living in the province were not considered for inclusion within the terms of the Indian Act. The Agreement-in-Principle was designed to rectify this historic omission.
It also means that the Newfoundland Mi’kmaq who meet the enrolment criteria, will gain access to federal programs that are dedicated to Status Indians, such as post-secondary education and non-insured health benefits programs. Collectively, the band will receive stable and predictable funding, and programs will be consistent and more readily available, such as direct core funding through Indian Government Support programs, economic development funding, and other programs as they become available. It will also resolve a long-standing issue and avoid a potentially time-consuming and expensive court battle.
Years of hard work have brought the Mi’kmaq to this historic day. I’m certain the leaders of the past and our elders who are no longer with us would be pleased. I congratulate the members of our negotiating team and the Mi’kmaq community of Newfoundland for their commitment, confidence and determination to achieve recognition, which they rightly deserve.
The next step will be for the federal government to ratify the Agreement-in-Principle and then we will both sign a final agreement. The FNI will then undertake a registration process to create a Founding Members list, which is planned to begin this fall. Once the first phase of this registration is complete, the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland will be added to the federal Indian Registry and the band, named Qalipu First Nation Band, will be established. It is anticipated the new band could be established in early 2010. For the short term, the FNI board of directors will act as the band council for Qalipu First Nation Band until the first band council election occurs, which must be within one year of the band’s formation.
On a personal note, there are a few people I must recognize for their outstanding contribution to the Federation of Newfoundland, to the ratification process and to the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland.
o Annie Randell – Throughout this process, she has demonstrated outstanding leadership, tenacity and grace under pressure. Words cannot fully express the appreciation and respect I have for this outstanding individual.
o Steve May – Our legal advisor for over 14 years. He has been solid in his advise to us and has provided valuable guidance. We share this success today with Steve.
o Shayne MacDonald-Aboriginal legal advisor. Shayne’s experience and guidance has assisted the FNI tremendously to be where we are today.
o The FNI staff and board of directors without your cooperation this process may not have been concluded into the timeframe it was.
o Wayne Greene, our ratification officer, who managed a first-class voting process. He ensured the democratic process was skilfully coordinated and inclusive.
o The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples – for their constant support.
For decades, the Mi’kmaq of Newfoundland have struggled to maintain our culture and lifestyle. With the ratification of the Agreement-in-Principle, the important Mi’kmaq culture of Newfoundland will be stronger, protected and fostered. You have heard me say this numerous times over the past few months: With the ratification vote behind us, we will now focus on what really matters – building a brighter future as First Nations Indians – secure in our future and in charge of our destiny. Now the real work begins for our people.
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