Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation has voted to allow some RCMP officers, Canadian Rangers, members of the military and veterans to reapply for founding membership nearly a decade after they were disqualified.
The news comes as a relief for people like Ed Brake, a retired RCMP officer whose founding membership in Qalipu First Nation was later denied because he lives outside the province.
"To have been stripped of my status because I simply didn't live back in my home province was difficult to take," he told CBC News this week. "It restores my dignity and helps me be able to look back down at my grandchildren and share our story."
In 2013, the federal government and Federation of Newfoundland Indians controversially amended Qalipu First Nation's enrolment guidelines, in the process stripping thousands of founding memberships in the band.
In addition to other guidelines, the 2013 agreement created a point system in which applicants are scored on five conditions, including residency in Newfoundland.
Brake, who joined the RCMP more than three decades ago, said that was why his own membership was rescinded.
In 2018, the federal government, Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation and the Federation of Newfoundland Indians began changing how the rule applies to RCMP officers, Canadian military members, Canadian Rangers and veterans like Brake.
Under the new agreement, those who qualify can reapply if they originally applied for founding membership between Dec. 1, 2008, and Nov. 30, 2012.
"I can speak on behalf of the small group of veterans that I represent, that we are incredibly grateful for the support of our band members who did vote yes to ratify our return to the founding members list," Brake said.
Despite the result of the vote, Brake's membership in Qalipu isn't guaranteed — he still has to reapply and meet the other membership guidelines.
"It'll likely take the remainder of 2023 before we get a status card back in our hands," he said.
Membership in Qalipu First Nation does come with access to Canada's medical, educational and social programs for Indigenous people, but Brake said membership is about cementing his family heritage.
"There's nothing in this, financially or otherwise, for me, but I do get to pass it on to my descendents," he said.
The new agreement applies only to RCMP officers, Canadian military veterans and Canadian Rangers. Thousands of others who were barred from membership still won't be able to reapply — a situation Brake describes as "heartbreak."
"I believe that every one of those Newfoundland Indians that were removed from the Indian Register after having been approved should be restored immediately, and without delay," he said.
A class-action lawsuit on behalf of those whose membership in Qalipu First Nation was revoked is ongoing.