Protest vigil at Sheguiandah ends with INACs commitment to attend Sept. 25 meeting

SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION—The tipis have been put away, the sacred fire put out and the signs gathered from the roadside. The protest on the Sheguaindah First Nation to see Chief Orville Aguonie ousted from his seat as leader as the community, led by two of three councillors (Kevin Mishibinijima and Derek Assiniwe), is over in terms of its physical presence. But the councillors say the movement to see a stronger Sheguiandah is still growing and say they are pleased with the way things have gone.

While the councillors were disappointed that a September 10 meeting with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), or ‘Canada,’ as they say, was cancelled by fellow Councillor Jake Ago neh the week before, they are pleased that Canada has not given up and has rescheduled the meeting—a monthly meeting of chief and council—for next Tuesday, September 25 at 10 am, causing the protestors to break camp from their Highway 6 site across from the Manitoulin Trading Post. Mr. Assiniwe said he has confirmation that INAC will be coming, “no matter what.”

“I think that Canada is taking a closer look now at the issues at hand,” Mr. Assiniwe continued. “The first meeting (September 10) was just about getting us to sit down and talk, but since Orville is not signing some community members’ social assistance cheques and the issue with eviction and employment, and what we had to go through on the protest line, more attention is being paid to those issues,” the councillor alleged.

“Derek and I have already been looking at ways to deal with this,” Mr. Mishibinijima said, “such as clear communication and community involvement and giving people a chance to speak where they didn’t before.”

“Because we made our point and the word is out there, that’s why we ended the protest,” Mr. Mishbinijima said. The protest ended on day 50.

“We felt that 50 days was appropriate because we were getting the attention we hoped to receive,” Mr. Assiniwe added.

The councillors said tearing down the encampment was a solemn affair with lots of memories made. “It was like one big family all brought together,” Mr. Mishibinijima said. “I’m happy with the way things turned out.”

The pair said interaction with the community will still be ongoing, with an event for members to attend scheduled for the back room of Green Acres Restaurant—neutral territory—this Thursday from 7-9 pm. “We realize where the hurdles are and we want to hear how to address them,” Mr. Assiniwe explained of the planned Thursday meeting.

“Although the camp is down, we’re not stopping until our meeting with Canada,” he continued, noting that the United We Stand Facebook page (the page devoted to the protest group) would still be operating.

“People need to feel they are a part of the solution,” he added. “We always wanted to work with Orville (chief) and Jake (councilor) and have the community involved. It takes a community and it was the community that voted us in. It’s not a personal vendetta against the chief or his brother (Jake Ago neh). We would like nothing more than to work with Orville.”

Despite what some community members may have heard, Mr. Assiniwe and Mr. Mishbinijima stressed that they are indeed still elected councillors and have a letter from INAC to prove it.

“They will be watching us for awhile,” Mr. Mishibinijima said of INAC. “The whole community will be watching us too,” Mr. Assiniwe added.

“We’ve accomplished this, let’s see what we can do now,” he continued. “We’ve talked to the elders and they’ve played a role in helping us understand how a traditional form of government could help our people,” Mr. Assiniwe noted, speaking about the traditional role of elders’ councils and the Seven Grandfather Teachings.

“This is not a defeat, this is a celebration of what we had accomplished,” Mr. Assiniwe continued.

The pair chuckled that after disassembling the camp, the protestors did a ‘victory lap’ around the community with horns honking and lights flashing. Community members came out on their stoops with children in tow and cheered and waved, they said.

When asked about Chief Aguonie’s claims that councillors have no power outside of a duly convened council meeting, the pair replied that the same must go for the role of chief. “We were elected to represent and advocate on behalf of the community at all times,” Mr. Assiniwe added. “Everything we’ve done to this point has been for the growth and betterment of this community.”

Before vacating the premises, the protestors made sure to leave the area in even better condition than when they found it, including scrubbing the inside of the seniors’ centre spotless and picking up all garbage from the outside, including cigarette butts, the councillors said.

“We had an officer (United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin Anishinabe Police) do a final once over and lock the building when we left,” Mr. Assiniwe explained.

“We’re showing our faith in Canada that they’ll come and address these issues at the meeting,” Mr. Assiniwe said.

Sheguiandah First Nations Chief Orville Aguonie had not responded to The Expositor’s requests for comments about INAC’s participation in the upcoming band council meeting as of press time Monday.

Alicia McCutcheon