Sheg chief states that no-show councillors slowing band business

SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION—It has been four months since Councillors Derek Assiniwe and Kevin Mishibinijima and fellow protestors packed up their encampment and signs from the roadside of Highway 6 on the Sheguiandah First Nation.

For two months in the summer, the councillors protested day in and day out against Chief Orville Aguonie and what they felt was bad leadership of their community. The council of the First Nation is comprised of Chief Aguonie, Councillors Assiniwe and Mishibinijima and Councillor Jake Ago neh, the chief’s brother.

After another failed attempt at holding a meeting of chief and council Monday morning (the two protesting councillors did not attend), Chief Aguonie and the Sheguiandah First Nation band manager, Allison Aguonie (a husband and wife team) contacted The Expositor to air their frustrations.

The chief said he and Councillor Ago neh waited one hour after the meeting was to have started at 9 am, but neither councillor showed up, so the meeting was once again cancelled. Ms. Aguonie explained that she notified the councillors of the band meeting, in person, last Wednesday.

“I told them it would just be a short meeting and that we would just discuss band business, nothing else,” Ms. Aguonie said, noting that there were five band council resolutions that needed to be passed. Among the resolutions was one for the independent auditing firm KPMG to begin its annual audit on the community’s finances. Having the audit done means band funds for upcoming projects could begin to flow. Other resolutions included ones on the Northland Power wind project, transfer payment agreements for Casino Rama funds as well as a health funds transfer which, the band manager explained, is a five-year agreement which sees the salaries of the staff at the Sheguiandah First Nation Health Centre paid. Another resolution would approve work on reservoir hill (where the water treatment plant is located) and would create five new jobs, while another, funds for the Raising the Spirit mental wellness team, would see that program brought to the community’s health centre.

“During their protest, I recall them saying they were councillors 24/7,” the chief said. “Well it certainly doesn’t seem like it by the way they’re acting. They’re out to sabotage band finances from coming through.”

“The audit needs to be signed off on so the community can know about the finances,” Chief Aguonie added.

When asked how the band has been surviving financially without much-needed signatures, Ms. Aguonie explained that part of her job is to file reports for government services, what she refered to as “essential services,” which still receives funding. “But there is money being held back,” she said.

“They don’t seem to care, even if it’s holding the community back,” the chief said.

Chief Aguonie explained that in early November he had filed letters with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and Aboriginal Affairs, asking them what is to be done about Councillors Assiniwe and Mishibinijima and whether the band could declare their seats vacant. He has yet to hear back, but said he planned to contact the offices this week, including the office of the regional director, to push for a response.

Despite internal troubles, the chief said his community is moving forward with some projects, including the arrival of low cost high speed Internet in the community, thanks to utilizing the band’s own manpower and equipment to put up a Vianet tower. Lights for the new outdoor rink have also been installed and two rooms in the recreation centre have had a makeover as a special education/tutor room and an adult computer lab has been created.

The ongoing issues of rent arrears continues, but has markedly improved, the band manager noted. This, she says, and other changes to band management, should be reflected in the audit.

“This isn’t Attiwapiskat, we do have a paper trail,” Chief Aguonie said.

Alicia McCutcheon