Whitefish River First Nation celebrates 50th anniversary of band administration

WHITEFISH RIVER FIRST NATION—Whitefish River First Nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of band administration this past Saturday with a large gala for community members and neighbours following the annual Christmas parade.

The evening got started with entertainment from Elijah and the Back Burners.

A buffet dinner was served following opening prayer and remarks.

The keynote speech was given by Councillor Esther Osche, ‘50 Years and Going Strong.’

Councillor Osche explained in her opening remarks that she was asked to prepare a walk down memory lane as “no celebration is complete without a peek into the past to see and reminisce about our earliest beginnings.”

“Long after the treaties were signed and our community was permanently established as Whitefish River First Nation No.4, the Indian Act and the Indian Agent became the first form of administration we were to experience,” said Councillor Osche. “Our leaders and community members would work within this system in an effort to take care of their needs as their lives changed from a free lifestyle to a very regulated lifestyle, controlled in large part by strangers and government officials. This slowly began to change following the Great Depression and World War I and II.”

Aundeck Omni Kaning Chief Patsy Corbiere and Councillor Karen McGraw present Whitefish River First Nation Chief Franklin Paibomsai with a gift on behalf of their community.

Councillor Osche said that the restrictive lifestyle created a “stirring” in the community for something better.

“Our leaders of the time saw the treaty promises fading and the society around them growing wealthy and making progress with the use of an inheritance that rightfully belonged to our people,” she said. “It was a time for action and to take back our own autonomy and get more control over our own affairs once again.”

The individuals of Whitefish River started to change as Indigenous people across Canada began gaining more equal rights. Councillor Osche said these changes sparked WRFN leaders to organize themselves and fight to reclaim their political rights and the power to govern themselves.

“Our leaders’ successes grew because they were united and focused,” she explained. “These are the days after World War II, the Indian Agent became less visible and less involved in our daily affairs. Our chiefs won and reclaimed their rights to establish their administration over their own daily affairs.”

Despite reclaiming their rights to govern, Councillor Osche said there were new challenges such as financial constraints.

The annual Christmas Parade kicked of the 50th anniversary celebration.

“Our first official administration office was opened in the home of former Chief Bill McGregor in his living room at a big desk,” she shared. “There he would run the affairs of our community and attend meetings to advocate our rights and seek out funds to develop our community.”

Some time in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s, Councillor Osche said that the community centre was built as the hub for the community to gather. She added that it even had a projector room for showing movies.

“When former chief Art Nahwegahbow took office he recurred the funds to build a small two room office addition to the community centre,” Councillor Osche continued. “There were three desks and a safe and the community centre closet room served as

the post office. Later the two room office made space for a small library.”

One of the offices was occupied by Chief Nahwegahbow and the other office was for the administrator of the time, Jean McGregor Andrews.

Councillor Osche said that when necessary, the chief would invite the Indian Agent, Vern Robinson, who was based out of an office in Manitowaning, to a council meeting to inform the band what could be available for land development.

“When former chief Jim McGregor took office, a clerk position was opened with only one applicant applying, Dennis McGregor, who held the post for nine years,” she said. “Dennis reminisced with me how there were only two phones and an old-time copier to work with. Space was limited so when Chief McGregor stepped out, Dennis would need to utilize the office to organize meeting minutes, band council resolutions and various correspondences.”

In 1973, Dennis McGregor received permission to create and distribute the first community newsletter.

Councillor Esther Osche gives the keynote speech, ‘50 Years and Going Strong.’

In 1974 Pauline Andrews took over the role of band administer. When Chief Leona Nahwegahbow took office, she created more positions within the band administration and additions were built to the existing community centre to accommodate the growing staff.

“This was surely an exciting time of growth and without planning it, we became an all female run administration,” said Councillor Osche. “Many of the positions opened held multiple jobs because of the shortage of funds, but spirits were high and folks rolled up their sleeves and dived into the work. It was great to work for community development and see the community beginning to really grow.”

The administration continued to grow when Chief Franklin Paibomsai took office and the office space expanded with the changes.

“I remember one time a carpenter saying if we built one more addition and changed the roof again we might be mistaken for a flying unidentified object from sky view,” she with a laugh. “Yes we had grown, and now we had outgrown our humble beginnings. Down came the old wall and up grew the new facilities that could once again meet the community’s expanding needs.”

Elijah and the Back Burners provided the
entertainment for the evening.

“We have stayed true to the vision of those who walked before us to keep our dignity, hold our heads up high in the lands of our inheritance and to reclaim our autonomy over our affairs and to direct those affairs based on need and growth for our future generations,” concluded Councillor Osche. “We have built a great place to live and have made the facilities to meet our needs and the needs of the future. I think our ancestors would be proud of these accomplishments that have been made thus far, especially their humble beginnings. Let’s congratulate their efforts and yours to keep the dream alive to become the best we can be together going forward as we always have as one family and one community.”

Aundeck Omni Kaning Chief Patsy Corbiere and Councillor Karen McGraw presented WRFN Chief Paibomsai with a gift on behalf of their community and Chief Corbiere presented a gift on behalf of the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM) Tribal Council.

Chief Corbiere commended the band administration on their hard work growing and developing their community over the last 50 years.

“When you drive through the community, you can see all the hard work you have done,” said Chief Corbiere.

Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes presented Chief Paibomsai with a certificate marking the 50th anniversary. She sent regrets from MPP Mike Mantha and congratulations and greetings from the new NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

“I have been honoured to represent the area for the last nine years and work alongside First Nation leaders from this community and others in the area,” said Ms. Hughes. “I’m impressed by how your community has flourished and your determination as a people to fight for what is rightfully yours.”

Chief Paibomsai thanked Ms. Hughes for attending and noted that a congratulatory letter had also been sent from the Honourable Carolyn Bennet, minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, and a personal email from Premier Kathleen Wynne.

WRFN Councillors Cara McGregor, Gerald McGregor and Esther Osche presented quilts to honoured guests, former administration staff Jean McGregor, Silvia Shawanda, Pauline Andrews, Dennis McGregor and James McGregor—thanking them for their years of service and work for the community.

“Congratulations to our former administration and leaders for all their work over the years,” said Chief Paibomsai concluding the presentations for the evening. “As we acknowledge 50 years of history, we look to the future. Congratulations to the staff who work tirelessly for us throughout the community in all areas. Job well done. Miigwetch.”