Sheg stalemate carries on

SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION—The divide among members of the chief and council of the Sheguiandah First Nation continues, with the six outstanding band council resolutions and the community’s audit still going unsigned.

The Expositor learned last week that as a result of some unsigned resolutions, the cash flow to the reserve was being affected which has led to the indefinite layoffs of three band employees (one recreation director and two tutors), with perhaps more in the future.

Chief Orville Aguonie explained that there are three to four drivers hired to transport band members to appointments and this transportation cost is paid for with money that comes from the band but is reimbursed through Health Canada on a quarterly basis.

“These vehicles we have don’t run on miigwetches,” the chief noted. “The bills are being paid, but we’ve got to trim the fat.”

Chief Aguonie explained that money from the reserve’s general fund pays for the annual powwow, Christmas party and gifts as well as for the winter carnival and is then reimbursed at the end of each year through the community’s Casino Rama funds allotment. “This is nothing new,” the chief said. “Derek (Assiniwe) has signed off on them (Rama fund transfers in his time as councillor on a previous council) before and is well aware of how things are done.” Councillor Derek Assiniwe, with Councillor Mishibinijima, are the two elected officials choosing not to participate in the business of the band by way of a protest against Chief Aguonie. Jake Ago neh, the other elected councillor, sides with the chief to create a stalemate that began last summer.

And as for Councillors Derek Assiniwe and Kevin Mishibinijima’s concerns with the audit, “the auditor (KPMG) walked them through it,” the chief said. “It was the first time Jake (Councillor Jaek Ago neh) and I had seen the final audit too.” The chief and council had met two weeks ago on neutral ground in Sudbury to consider some band business, including the annual auditor’s report. Councillors Assiniwe and Mishibinijima had refused to sign off on it without explanation, in some detail, The Expositor reported last week.

In regards to the two councillors’ concerns with signing the agreement with Northland Power, the chief explained that the original partnership was signed during a previous council, of which Councillor Assiniwe was a part. “These windmills are going to go up regardless if they’re on board or not,” Chief Aguonie said. “That’s a lot for a small First Nation—$7 million over 20 years. We would get half a million dollars right off the bat because of our close proximity, maybe even in May.”

The Expositor questioned the chief in regards to a letter the paper had received from Shegtown Bus Lines and written by proprietor (and councillor) Derek Assiniwe (and addressed to the families of the school children he transports to and from school). It states, in part: “It is with great regret in which I address you today. I am sorry to inform you that February 22, 2013 may be the last day I am able to provide transportation services for your children. Due to non-payment, I am no longer able to cover the operating cost of the school bus. I have made attempts in contacting the band regarding payment over the last few weeks, but have had no reply or payment as of yet. Invoicing is on a bi-weekly schedule and as of February 22, it will be six weeks of non-payment, I can no longer cover the cost out of pocket.” On Monday, February 25, The Expositor confirmed that no school run was made by Shegtown Bus Lines.

The chief and band manager Alison Aguonie showed this reporter the cheques for Shegtown on Friday of last week, but said they needed to speak with Mr. Assiniwe in person to address “serious concerns” with his contract with the First Nation. The Expositor spoke with Mr. Assiniwe, who said “there was no reason to talk in person and not through email,” refusing to meet with Ms. Aguonie in person. He also addressed the audit, about which he and Councillor Mishibinijima had yet to have their concerns addressed by the KPMG auditing firm. “We’re just waiting to hear—we want to be as fully informed as possible before we make any decisions. It comes down to being responsible.”

There were some parents in the community who, along with their children, took their annoyance over the cancellation of bus service to the street Monday of this week. The protest, organized by Jackie Bowerman, was in full support of Mr. Assiniwe and his decision to stop busing the community’s kids due to lack of payment.

“I think this is a personal attack against Derek because they (Councillors Assiniwe and Mishibinijima) won’t sign off,” Ms. Bowerman said from her post along Highway 6 in front of her home. “There are three kids missing school today because they had no ride.” Ms. Bowerman said she phoned Little Current Public School principal Jamie Mohamed to inform him of the one-day situation.

The chief told The Expositor that alternative plans were being made for transportation in the interim, with the community’s vans being driven by volunteers to get children to school. The parents at the protest claimed that no attempt was made to pick up their children Monday morning. “It’s one thing to go after the adults, but another things to go after the kids,” Ms. Bowerman said.

Another Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada chaired band council meeting is scheduled for this Friday, March 1 in Sudbury.

Alicia McCutcheon

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