The Mi'kmaq (sometimes spelled Mi'kmaw or Micmac) are an indigenous people of Eastern Canada, today numbering around 40,000 in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. In the early 2000s the Federal Government of Canada started a process to officially recognize the Qalipu Mi'kmaq people of Newfoundland, since they had never been officially documented and had no reserve lands. They started accepting applications for anyone who had indigenous blood and wanted to be considered for membership to the band.
They received over 100,000 applications, fully one-fifth the population of the entire province.
The Mi'kmaq had been coming to the island of Newfoundland for hunting and fishing for hundreds of years, and had commonly intermingled with the French settlers. In 1949, Newfoundland joined Confederation with Canada as the 10th Province. Part of the agreement to join the country was the province's agreement that there were no Mi'kmaq living on the Island. This was a blatant falsehood, for while their numbers had dwindled they were certainly not extinct. The reason for this decision is complicated. Indigenous people in Canada are governed by a law called the Indian Act, a contentious piece of legislature that decides how they are defined, their land rights, ability to govern themselves and so on. It is both a necessary and a massively racist system of laws, which the country has been amending, apologizing for and paying reparations against for decades.
Mi'kmaq Camp in Nova Scotia, c. 1857
In 1949, Canada didn't want to recognize a large influx of new "Status Indians" because it would cost them a fortune to provide social benefits to members in remote communities. Newfoundland didn't want anyone recognized as Status Indians because under the Act Indians weren't allowed to vote. There are no good records of exactly how many Mi'kmaq existed on the island in 1949 (since officially they didn't exist), but there were certainly some, though they were maligned and marginalized just like native people in the rest of North America.
For many years you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who admitted to be of Mi'kmaq heritage. And then, all of a sudden their numbers exploded when the government decided to allow them back into the fold. Why you may ask? An person optimistic about the nature of humanity would say it's because all those people were looking to reclaim their heritage. A more cynical person would say it's because of all the government social funding and tax benefits being a Status Indian provides.
Joe Jeddore, a Newfoundland Mi'kmaq guide, pre-1907
I guarantee everyone just called him "Indian Joe."
In 2011, after going through about 25,000 applications the Feds put the brakes on the program and told the Newfoundland Federation of Indians to change the eligibility requirements to be a member of the Qalipu band, because there was no way they were going to recognize so many members. The outstanding applications were summarily rejected, and previously reviewed applications were reevaluated. Eligibility was changed so that now not only did you have to have indigenous ancestors, but you had to live in certain areas and be an active member of the band. Even then, the criteria is not being vetted transparently or consistently. Some people who had already been granted Status are having it revoked. It also created the stunning situation where one sibling is an "Indian," but their brother or sister is not. Or even where a parent is not an "Indian," but their children are.
Full disclosure: This applies to my own family. My maternal grandfather was of Mi'kmaq descent. My sister and her children are recognized members of the band and are Status Indians. I'm probably going to have my status revoked.
This needless to say has caused a lot of controversy and bad blood. It's important to recognize that being a Status Indian is a legal recognition and does not define your heritage. You can still consider yourself Mi'kmaq and be a member of the band and take part in all their cultural activities. But no, you don't get the financial benefits that come along with it.
Whether that's right or wrong is up to the individual to decide.
(Photo credits today are from: http://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/aboriginal/mikmaq-history.php)
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