Letter to the editor: UOI agreement on governance is not binding on First Nations

To the Expositor:

In the December 11, 2019 issue of The Manitoulin Expositor, a letter to the editor was published in reference to the proposed vote on “Governance” previously held in Aundeck Omni Kaning in February of 2019. As a result, Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation citizens voted a resounding “no” to the Governance agreement. It sent a clear message to band council, to the Union of Ontario Indians (UOI) and the government of Canada that the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation was not interested in being part of its process and the band didn’t need the Crown and or UOI overseeing its governance.

In stark contrast, the Sagamok First Nation made the appropriate political decision on behalf of its citizens to formally opt out of the UOI umbrella and were well within their rights to do so. Here in AOK, we’re on the same trajectory, but no indication from chief and council if this is still their intention. In previous band council minutes after the vote held in February 2019, it indicated and/or suggested a second vote would occur after the election in August 2020 (not that I’m wanting one, mind you). This is a misleading statement to the membership and to imply that such a vote would take place for a second time (as if a first vote wasn’t enough) would be administered. All business and community votes are cancelled or withdrawn six months prior to an election. In hindsight, it is unknown if new council members are aware of this fact or aware of the references made in previous band council minutes has yet to be known. How many votes does one need to say that no means no?

The government of Canada over the years has seen through its financial funding agreements, reporting requirements that the Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation government has always performed with compliance in ensuring financially accountability and transparency. The band has always exercised due diligence for the past 40 years supported by the required financial auditing standards of independent auditing firms. The Government of Canada has also seen the success of our three year term of office for chief and council replacing the required two year term under the Indian Act, which was not only inadequate in terms of sustainability, but inadequate for long term planning. Likewise, the band’s election law has provided a principled approach to elections and has upheld our election standards under its own established Election Law for three-year term of office for decades. The Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation was one of the First in Canada to define its own membership rules and developed their own Membership Code.

I’m sure the newly appointed commissioner on governance at UOI can attest to that during his tenure as former chief of AOK and as previous grand council chief, I’m confident he can reasonably agree with me that AOK doesn’t require any “governance agreement” nor does it need any outside interference of any entity probing into the band’s internal affairs, now or in the future.

So, is the agreement on “governance” binding on First Nations? I would have to say no, it’s not. Why would First Nations restrict to legally binding themselves unnecessarily to decisions that could impact them down the road, particularly when the Government of Canada hasn’t even addressed their aboriginal and treaty rights issues?

What is clear, however, bands still have the option of opting out of that agreement through the legal process and can make application to the federal court of Canada if the process doesn’t meet the needs of its communities now and into the future.

If a second vote were to be held on “governance” for AOK (again, as if the first vote wasn’t enough), it is hoped that the community membership would vote “no.” The leadership must respect its fiduciary duty to its citizens and provide the necessary discourse in ensuring community decision(s) held through community votes are being upheld and sanctioned as good governance practice towards its citizens and its institutions.

Yours truly,

Donald J. McGraw

M’Kwaa Dodem

Aundeckomnikaaning First Nation