Anishinabek Nation holds grand council meeting on Manitoulin

From left, Whitefish River First Nation councillors Dave Shawanda, Leona Nahwegahbow and Cara McGregor join Shawanosowe School students, Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare, Algoma-Manitoulin- Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes, Regional Grand Chief Ed Wawai and Whitefish River Chief Shining Turtle to pose for a photo during the Manitoulin meeting held last week.

LITTLE CURRENT—The grand council of the Anishinabek Nation held a meeting at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre last week where the assembled chiefs of the First Nations organization completed an ambitious agenda over the course of three days.

“It was good, the whole three days,” said Grand Council Chief Glen Hare following the meeting. “This was the first meeting we have held with our new organizational structure.”

The new organizational structure now includes four regional deputy grand council chiefs instead of the single deputy.

“Two of our new regional chiefs co-chaired the meeting,” said Grand Council Chief Hare. “They did an incredible job. They know the process and they know the people. Thanks to their leadership and knowledge, things went very smoothly.”

Grand Council Chief Hare noted that on February 14 the Government of Canada announced their intent to create a federal framework on Indigenous Rights based on their interest to renew the relationship with Indigenous Peoples. The chiefs reacted to the concept as one.

“The Anishinabek Nation leadership have unanimously rejected and oppose any future development of Canada’s Indigenous Rights Framework,” said Grand Council Chief Hare. “Something as crucial as this should not be subject to timelines. We are always dealing with last minute compliance from Canada.”

The Anishinabek Nation chiefs hold that any implementation of the Indigenous Rights Framework will “further entrench infringements of First Nation jurisdiction by the federal government through empowerment of Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.” They maintain that the Indigenous Rights Framework is separate and apart from the fulfillment of treaty obligations of the federal government.

Grand Chief Hare noted that the Anishinabek Nation notified Canada formally in April that any discussions on this issue must occur directly with Anishinabek Nation chiefs. “To date, those discussions have not taken place,” he said. “There has been no evidence of a partnership approach and no nation-to-nation discussions. Once again, we’re being left in the dark and out of conversations that we need to be a part of, especially because it directly impacts us.”

The chiefs have also directed the Restoration of Jurisdiction department at the Anishinabek Nation to engage the federal government to extend the ratification vote for the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement to November 2019. The former target was July 2019. The delay was sought to provide for more consultation with Anishinabek citizens.

Angus Toulouse, a councillor with Sagamok Anishnawbek, Serpent River First Nation Chief Elaine Johnston and Sheguiandah First Nation Chief Andrew Aguonie each spoke on the approach with Canada.

“We talk about the Ngo Dwe Waangizid Anishinaabe and this approach with Canada does not address our responsibilities to our peoples,” said Councillor Toulouse. “This suggests that we’re going to set aside our treaty and forge ahead with a new organization that would be our government that would bring us together to fight over the little bit of resources that the government will allow us to fight over. We need to reconcile how we are going to live and benefit from the resources of the land. As Robinson Huron treaty people, we are forcing the discussion with the annuity claim.”

“Is the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI) our government?” asked Chief Johnston. “No. The Anishinabek Nation is bigger than the 40 First Nations. It goes into the US and Manitoba. We had this discussion about relationships in our Lake Huron meeting. We have concerns about Restoration of Jurisdiction. I believe that there is a role for the UOI—it is an advocacy organization. The UOI needs to open the door and get out of the way for us to have dialogues.

Chief Johnston continued, “The government likes to pit us against each other. They like that we work in these little silos. They don’t have to recognize us as individual First Nations. Our people have the inherent right. That right does not belong at the UOI, it belongs at home. You can’t talk about governance without talking about land. The UOI doesn’t understand. We are working on governance, citizenship and constitution. We are not on your list. My concern is that times have changed since 1995. Why are we following government timelines?”

“This was supposed to be a brother/sister relationship with the Crown, not paternal, the Crown took that upon themselves,” said Chief Aguonie. “They have never conquered us. Constitutions are under Canadian framework, Natural law, our constitutions are our pipes when we decided something about life. The bottom line is that’s what we need to govern ourselves. The Canadian government will never acknowledge our natural law. I feel like if we are going to do something new, it has to be about the land, the government and stewardship. If there is no land, there is no life. It is hard to live on our postage stamps. When people talk about climate adaption, they should talk about fixing it up.”

The issue of cannabis legalization was one of the items discussed just before the closing remarks and procession of the flags out of the assembly.

Chief Shining Turtle, whose Whitefish River First Nation was the host for the meeting, noted that his community has placed a moratorium on the issue of retail stores. “This is moving too fast,” he said, a sentiment repeated by several the chiefs.

One of the key complaints has been that there has been little to no guidance on the regulations pertaining to First Nations. While the federal government has made it clear that the issue is up to the First Nations reserve governments to deal with, that is all well and good except for one glaring issue:

“We are left to do it without any resources,” said Grand Council Chief Hare. “Municipalities are at least getting $10,000, which isn’t nearly enough in my view, but they are at least getting that. We are getting nothing to help deal with the consequences of legalization.”