Despite three tumultuous years leading the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band, Chief Brendan Mitchell has been given a strong vote of confidence to continue in that role for another term.
While the final numbers were not yet available as of deadline, the band declared Mitchell will stay on as chief shortly after 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night.
That was more than three hours after the 30 polls distributed across the band’s nine wards in western and central Newfoundland had closed.
Mitchell started out strong and had built up a roughly 1,000-vote lead by the time half the pools had been counted and he continued to do well on into the night.
While the polls from the Stephenville and Port au Port wards were late coming in, Mitchell was confident as he and his supporters began celebrating the results at the Royal Canadian Legion in downtown Corner Brook.
He said the new mandate given to him is twofold: he must not only work to continue the band’s progress, but must also fight for the disenfranchised who he feels should still be part of the band.
More than 10,000 names have been removed from the Qalipu founding members list since the last election in 2015, thanks to the membership reassessments required by a supplemental agreement between the band and the federal government in 2013.
“The people have spoken,” said Mitchell. “They’ve entrusted me to go forward for three more years on their behalf … We will be working to build on what we have together and we are going to create some healing and reconciliation in our communities. We need that unity to accomplish what we need to in areas such as culture, business, community development and, yes, enrolment and membership in Qalipu First Nation.”
Mitchell said he was nervous coming into election day, but felt more at ease as the numbers began rolling in. He knew he would enjoy strong support in his hometown of Corner Brook and felt he also had the support of members in the Stephenville and Port au Port areas, where his two opponents — Hayward Young and Clyde Russell — are from.
He knew also that many of those who have criticized him may not have actually been eligible to vote, but he vowed to keep fighting for those who have been removed from the band as much as for those who have remained in it.
“I never dismissed the people who couldn’t vote in this election,” he said. “Those people are still part of a group who should be included.”
He encouraged all those disheartened and hurt by the enrolment process to support the band’s efforts to do what it can for them and to keep participating in their cultural activities.
“I think it will happen that many of these people will come back to Qalipu,” said Mitchell. “They were members for seven years and I still have to consider them ... I still have to work for these people.”