Debate arises over Wiikwemkoong’s proposed land code

Rosemary Shawanda, right, introduces speaker Terry Debassige, a member of M’Chigeeng First Nation, who discussed concerns about the First Nations Land Management Act. photo by Michael Erskine

 WIIKWEMKOONG – Rosemary Shawanda and her husband Armando have been hosting several information sessions on the First Nations Land Management Act (FNLMA) federal legislation that has been touted by some as a precursor to eliminating the generally reviled Indian Act and replacing it with a government to government framework, while others voice concerns that the FNLMA is defining First Nations and attempting to turn those communities into the equivalent of municipalities.

 Ms. Shawanda, through that process, realizes that she and other community members have some deep concerns with the new legislation.

 The Expositor caught up with Ms. Shawanda prior to the fifth of the information sessions to learn about her concerns and, following that session, discussed those concerns with Wiikwemkoong Ogimaa Duke Peltier. Ogimaa Peltier noted that Wiikwemkoong staff and council members have attended Ms. Shawanda’s session to provide information.

 Ms. Shawanda said that they are also opposed to a lease to Pacific Seafoods for a proposed aquaculture operation in Wiikwemkoong’s territorial waters, going on to explain that it was this planned partnership with the community that alerted them to FNLMA and chief and council’s movements towards meeting requirements under the FNLMA. Although the lease negotiations were discussed in October, Ms. Shawanda’s unsuccessful bid for chief in the last band election did cite concerns over the FNLMA as part of her platform.

 As to the aquaculture lease agreement, Ogimaa Peltier noted that “The Council has a standing objective to increase economic activity in Wiikwemkoong and supports Enaadmagehjig Development Corporation to continue assessing joint ventures that may provide beneficial job creation to our community.” Ogimaa Peltier said that chief and council continues to support the existing aquaculture operations in the community and see the Pacific Seafoods proposal as a having a positive impact on the community.

 Ms. Shawanda voiced her concern that there are three requisites for the FNLMA: first, that the community name had to be changed to Wiikwemkoong First Nation—from the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve (often also called Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory in the community). Ogimaa Peltier categorically denied that assertion. “There is no requirement to change our legal name,” he said. Ms. Shawanda’s second concern is that Wiikwemkoong had to agree to being surveyed in order to meet the requirements of the FNLMA, Ogimaa Peltier responds that “a survey is required to clarify the existing land holdings of Wiikwemkoong to facilitate a proposed administrative land management system. Any lands that are returned in the future, through agreement(s) with the Crown, will also be required to be surveyed. The Crown has agreed that the extent of these survey limits are not the definitive boundaries of Wiikwemkoong.

 Ms. Shawanda’s third concern is that the framework agreement—that she said was stalled at second reading on April 30 in council due to resistance from the community—has to be passed by June 30.

 “There is no deadline of June 30,” stressed Ogimaa Peltier. “The council has determined that further dialogue with community members is necessary prior to a second reading of the Draft Law in order to allow further consultations for those that have not attended any sessions. After the introduction of a proposed new land management system in 2017, and a first reading of a draft law on June 18, 2018, 22 community engagement sessions have taken place in Wiikwemkoong and in urban areas. Our lawmaking process requires community participation.”

 Further, Ms. Shawanda says the framework agreement is a precursor to the FNLMA. “A framework agreement is necessary to define a working relationship between governments,” counters Ogimaa Peltier.

 As to Ms. Shawanda’s concern over whether the Chi-naakwegawin (supreme law) is being superseded by the Aki-naakwegawin (land code) Ogimaa Peltier was adamant that this is not the case. “Wiikwemkoong ratified its own constitution in June 2014 that prescribed a law-making process that the council must abide by,” he affirmed. “Chi-naaknigewin defines our law making process.”

 Ms. Shawanda and her friends expressed a key concern that the framework and FNLMA concede that the land is ultimately “owned” by the Crown, but Ogimaa Peltier asserts that “Wiikwemkoong council has never conceded that its lands are owned by the Crown. The FNLMA eliminates the colonial Indian Act lands system and blocks interference from federal and provincial governments and does not affect aboriginal or treaty rights. Wiikwemkoong’s ability to make Aboriginal Title claims to unceded lands is protected. Land surrenders are prohibited under the FNLMA.”

 Ms. Shawanda said that the FNLMA is an attempt by the federal government to “define us” and that by allowing them to define the people “we are giving them the authority.” But Ogimaa Peltier counters that “Wiikwemkoong has defined itself through the ratification of its own constitution.”

 A petition with 200 names in opposition to the new land code has been submitted to council, said Ms. Shawanda and Ogimaa Peltier notes that “a petition was submitted and is under review presently.”

 When it comes to cash transfers for the FNLMA to the band, Ms. Shawanda cited a sum of $4.235 million over five years that was received by the band to expedite the process of developing the framework agreement.

 “Wiikwemkoong Lands Department has been allocated a total of $150,000 over two years to develop a land code and an agreement,” said Ogimaa Peltier. “This amount is prescribed by Canada through the FNLMA for all developmental First Nations that are considering removing the Indian Act land management system and the land provisions within it.”

 Ms. Shawanda is concerned that the band is being turned into a corporation and that transformation will impact treaty rights. “Municipalities are creations of provincial law and subject to provincial legislation,” noted Ogimaa Peltier. “First Nations are not brought under provincial authority or made municipalities under the FNLMA.”

 There will continue to be debate on the merits of the FNLMA, as there has been for the several years the FNLMA process has been underway.