Sheg First Nation protest carries on

SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION—Monday was day 14 of the Sheguiandah First Nation protest, but in those 14 days, the protestors and Chief Orville Aguonie had still not met.The Expositor stopped by the protest encampment on Highway 6 on Monday and talked to Sheguiandah First Nation councillors Derek Assiniwe and Kevin Mishibinijima. The councillors, two of four elected officials comprising the band council, are calling for the resignation of Chief Aguonie following two criminal charges and what they consider to be unfavourable practices in band administration.

For his part, Chief Aguonie told The Expositor in an article last week, “I run a transparent, accountable First Nation and I can answer any questions community members may have,” adding that he has an “open door policy” with band members.The sticking point for the two groups meeting is band members versus community members. (Band members are those who are officially registered to the Sheguiandah First Nation, while community members are those who live in the community, but are either non-Native or belong to another First Nation.)

The protest group has asked the chief and Councillor Jake Ago-Neh to meet with Councillors Assiniwe and Mishibinijima and the community at large. The chief has told the two councillors that he would agree to a meeting, but with band members only. Talks have not proceeded past that point.Mr. Assiniwe explained on Monday that the director of band governance for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada has been in touch with the protest group each day. “Our request is to have a representative come and do an on-site visit and let them reach their own conclusion (on band affairs),” he added.
Both councillors said they feel the two groups have reached a point of no return in terms of a meeting. “We’re of the mindset that we as a community are affected by every decision made,” Mr. Assiniwe said. “This could have been resolved by giving audience to community members—at least give that to the people. But because your band card doesn’t start with the number 176 (Sheguiandah’s number) you don’t count? That isn’t fair.”

The two councillors still say the protest has strengthened the unity of the community. “It’s still a peaceful roadside protest,” Mr. Assiniwe said. “Communication is key and it’s always up to the group as to what happens next. We know what our goal is, and we’re not going to resort to violence or intimidation to see it through.”

Chief Aguonie was unavailable for comment on Monday, but he did send a fax to The Expositor following last week’s article. The fax contained a letter and an overview from Brad Anderson, program advisor with Canada Mortgage and Housing’s (CMHC) Aboriginal Housing department.

“Sheguiandah First Nation is currently in the process of holding community meetings to share information and discuss ways to further improve their community housing program,” the CMHC overview states. “They have initiated many improvements to the housing program since the last client visit in 2009. They include an up-to-date housing policy in effect. A property management software program is currently being introduced into the housing program. A housing committee is operational and providing support to the community housing program.

The chief and council and housing committee are actively working with tenants on an arrears management strategy––all positive examples of positive property management practices observed and demonstrated in your efforts to improve the organizational and financial operations of your community housing program.”

editor@manitoulin.ca