Rhetoric escalates at Sheg First Nation

SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION—According to Sheguiandah Councillors Kevin Mishibinijima and Derek Assiniwe—the two Sheguiandah councillors who have been protesting their community’s governance by not participating in council meetings for almost eight months—Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) may impose third-party management as early as April 1 at which point the federal agency could take over the day-to-day financial operations of the First Nation.

The two councillors state that one of the reasons that would necessitate a third party arrangement is the fact that “the First Nation’s own council is unable to obtain any financial records from this band’s administration,” in a press release.

“The councillors believe that a lack of communication between the parties created this no-win scenario,” the press release continues. “Even with the threat of third-party management lingering, the councillors remain hopeful that an alternative—co-management—could be put in place where an independent CEO assists the band and reports back to chief and council.”

When contacted on Monday, Chief Orville Aguonie denied the councillors’ claim that the First Nation was nearing third-party management. “The only time Aboriginal Affairs will step in is if you’re mismanaging your funds or if there’s a failure to deliver vital services,” he said, “and that’s not the case.”

The chief said he is still waiting to hear back from the community’s lawyer in regards to a judicial review, whereby a judge could overturn the two councillors’ previous motions to vote down the passing of the audit. (At a meeting held on “neutral ground” in Sudbury early last month, Councillors Assiniwe and Mishibinijima declined to accept the audit of last year’s finances, saying they had not been provided with sufficient information.)

In what appears to be a lack of communication between the two sides, the chief told The Expositor he too would agree to co-management with the help of the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising, but said the idea was turned down by Councillors Mishibinijima and Assiniwe—the opposite of what was said in their press release.

“This has nothing to do with mismanagement, they just think ‘there must be something wrong here’,” Chief Aguonie said.

“We have repeatedly attempted to engage the chief and our band’s government over spending, financial statements and other details only to be met with unnecessary hostility,” Councillor Assiniwe said.

“As councillors, we have an obligation to know where the money comes from and where it goes,” Councillor Mishibinijima added. “The chief and his brother (Councillor Jake Ago Neh) refuse to have this kind of conversation with us. We are sick of waiting—now is the time to talk.”

In their press release, the councillors say they are insistent that their message has never changed since the protest last summer and fall. “What we did was, we tried to shut him down without a visible protest and without violence,” Councillor Assiniwe said. “We knew we had the support of most in the community. Those who don’t support us, Kevin and I aim to win over by working together, as a community. It has taken a very long time to be able to get to this point. We hope the other side is willing to finally have a conversation with us about the real issues.”

The chief told The Expositor he has engaged Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes who, he said, has been in touch with the minister’s office (AANDC) “to try and find a resolution.”

The chief said he has an information session planned for the community next Monday, March 18 at 5 pm at the band office with guest speakers to talk about the distinction between governance and administration.

The Expositor heard from AANDC Monday evening in an email from Claudia Fournier, she writes: “Under its funding agreement, the Sheguiandah First Nation is required to submit audited consolidated financial statements. However, as the First Nation has not submitted its audited financial statement for fiscal year 2011/12, AANDC has halted non-essential funding to the First Nation. AANDC remains optimistic that members of council will be able to resolve their issues and meet its reporting requirement stipulated in its funding agreement.”

As for whether third-party management is in the community’s future, Ms. Fournier said AANDC is prepared to intervene if the delivery of essential programs and services to community residents is jeopardized, but “it is up to the Sheguiandah First Nation to come together to resolve their differences.”

Alicia McCutcheon