Island: Decolonizing Newfoundland history to understand current Qalipu Mi’kmaq realities

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University of New Brunswick


This poetry manuscript, Island, and its accompanying critical introduction articulate specific difficulties and circumstances surrounding my struggle with identity and Indigeneity in Southwestern Newfoundland in the wake of the Qalipu First Nation enrolment process. The critical introduction re-examines Ktaqmkuk, or Newfoundland, history through a decolonizing lens to understand why the concept of Newfoundland Indigeneity, outside of the Beothuk, is often met with question or contempt. Concerns around Qalipu First Nation are understandable. The national narrative surrounding Newfoundland and Indigenous peoples has been, since 1949, that the Beothuk are the only population Indigenous to Newfoundland. When Newfoundland and Canada entered into Confederation, the Indian Act was not applied in Newfoundland as it was in other provinces. This lack of federal recognition virtually erased Newfoundland Mi’kmaq from Canadian narratives of Indigenous history. This, combined with the Mi’kmaq mercenary myth and the fact that Qalipu First Nation was created without consultation with the Mi’kmaq Grand Council, fuels mistrust and intense scrutiny. How does an island supposedly without Indigenous people suddenly have the second-largest seat at the Assembly of First Nations? The critical introduction and poetry work to ensure that Qalipu voices are heard and legitimized in academic contexts; they act as a counternarrative to misinformation concerning the Qalipu First Nation. Island contains distinct yet interwoven narrative threads: poems that instigate and redefine my understanding of my family history; poems that articulate childhood and teenage traumas that still affect me in adulthood; and poems that ask what an Indigenous Newfoundland identity is. The title is a nod to Newfoundland as a physical island, as well as a historically and socially islanded (that is to say, isolated and distinct) site. The writing process culminates in the realization that an island is only truly isolated on the surface. Though not all the poems are Mi’kmaq-specific in content, they all interrogate, reflect, and reposition, while working toward necessary healing. Island is a deep lean into my past to better inform who and where I am. I know I am not the only one wrestling with these issues. Island is my best attempt at healing, and at helping others.