EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates running for chief of the Sheguiandah First Nation in the Wednesday, November 22 band elections are incumbent Andrew Aguonie and current councillor Alison Aguonie. Mr. Aguonie and Ms. Aguonie spoke with The Expositor about their respective campaigns. Those interviews follow.
Andrew Aguonie: Keeping community unity first and foremost
by Michael Erskine
SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION—Incumbent Sheguiandah First Nation Ogimaa Andrew Aguonie has been spending most of his campaigning efforts in face-to-face conversations with band members. “I am not much of a social media kind of person,” he said. “I am not interested in cutting anyone down or anything like that.”
Mr. Aguonie said that he was strongly interested in building and maintaining community unity and moving things forward. “I want the same things as others,” he notes. “Economic development, a better life for our community members.”
But there are some things about the political process Mr. Aguonie admits he is not terribly good at. “I am not good at asking people to vote for me,” he laughed. “I can’t force anyone or tell them what to do.” His approach is built more on a consensual model and building a team through example. “I try to direct people toward positive things,” said Mr. Aguonie.
There are positive things to present, he notes. “We had a pretty positive audit presentation this time around. Things have stabilized pretty well.”
Getting positive things done is a lot easier when there is a good council sitting around the table. “It definitely helps a lot when people are able to work together,” he said.
Mr. Aguonie said that one item on the council agenda he would be focussing more on, should he be re-elected, is the band’s land claims. “It has been a pretty steep learning curve,” he said of the process. The band is working both within the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising group land claim and on its own interests.
Mr. Aguonie was very conciliatory toward his opponent in the council elections. “We all need to work together no matter who gets in,” he said. “We deserve the best as a community and I hope that the next council keeps that in mind. Good luck to all the people running.”
Alison Aguonie’s wealth of community and work experience will stand her well as chief
by Alicia McCutcheon
SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION—After one term as band councillor for the Sheguiandah First Nation, Alison Aguonie is ready to throw her hat in the ring for chief of the community.
Ms. Aguonie currently acts as the full-time health centre receptionist/medical transportation clerk while studying for her First Nation Child Welfare Advocate certificate through the Anishinabek Educational Institute at the Union of Ontario Indians, accredited through Canadore College.
“I was approached by numerous people about eight months ago that I should run,” the candidate for chief told The Expositor.
Ms. Aguonie said that with her work and volunteer experience, she feels she is an excellent candidate for the job.
Ms. Aguonie made it clear that she wouldn’t reinvent the wheel if elected, noting that there are a number of projects that the chief and council of the last term have been working hard on that she would like to see through, such as the development of the Indian Mountain Road ‘Stoneman’ property (the farm at the corner of Highway 540 and Indian Mountain Road purchased by the band a few years ago), as well as the heritage park on the community’s waterfront. Possible uses for the ‘Stoneman’ property include farming, the installation of solar panels, a transitional home for Kina Gbezhgomi or an elders’ complex. “The Charlton farm (that Sheguiandah First Nation also owns) is also sitting there vacant,” she said.
Another priority for Ms. Aguonie is the fast tracking of a custom election policy that would be ratified and implemented by the next election.
“Because we’re under the Indian Act, there’s no unity because of the way the system is developed,” she said. “It would be made by the people, for the people. It’s up the people what they want to see.” As part of that election policy, Ms. Aguonie said she would also like to see the term changed to three years instead of the two stipulated under the Indian Act.
“For new people, it takes at least two years to get a feel for the job, to really understand what’s going on in the community—it’s a barrier to chief and council working together effectively,” she said. Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation transitioned to three-year terms for elected chief and council members a few years ago.
Another item on Ms. Aguonie’s agenda is land claims. She pointed to Wiikwemkoong’s island claim and its interference with Sheguiandah’s stake to Heywood Island and that island’s importance to her community as well as the French River No. 13 reserve that, she says, also falls under Sheguiandah’s jurisdiction since the early 1900s.
“For us, land is forever,” she said. “As caretakers of the land, if this is ours we need to take it back.”
Ms. Aguonie said that if elected, she would make it her mandate to ensure meetings are held on a monthly basis.
Reinvestigating the new subdivision with the creation of small, eco-homes is also of interest to Ms. Aguonie. She noted that there are many single occupancy homes in the community that are just too big for the peoples’ needs. She spoke of the importance of community morale and the role a nice home, something you can be proud of, can have on a person’s well-being.
“I’m blunt and straightforward,” she said. “Depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual abuse—in order for our people to heal we need to start talking about the underlying issues. People aren’t going to like it, but to move forward these things need to be addressed.”
Equality for all band members is also important to Ms. Aguonie. “We have the (Casino) Rama and wind farm money. That money belongs to the people of the Sheguiandah First Nation, on and off-reserve.”
“They are entitled to it as much as we are here,” she said of those living off-reserve. “We shouldn’t punish them because they moved away to better their situation. Every little bit helps.”
This also means extending programs and services to those living outside the community. Ms. Aguonie gave an example of a young mother living in a neighbouring town but who would like to access programs in her home community. “Right now she can’t,” she explained, “but we should be welcoming these people whenever we can, not pushing them away. This also lets them know that we haven’t forgotten about them.”
The candidate for chief said she would also like to see more community gatherings celebrating the successes of the people—big or small. “Come rub elbows with your neighbour,” she smiled.
The youth are important to Ms. Aguonie, with their needs coming up over and over again throughout the interview. She spoke of a youth mentorship program she would like to see implemented, allowing youths to see what the world has to offer and what they can work towards.
“If we can’t take care of our children, how are we supposed to survive as a race?” she asked.
As for elders, “we need to keep our elders here for as long we can,” she said of community housing. “With aging baby boomers, we need to start planning.”
Ms. Aguonie said she would also like to see a multi-purpose complex built that would house the band office and a bigger community hall and fitness centre and that could also act as an emergency shelter in case of power outages, as many of the band homes are heated with electricity.
“Over the last two years I’ve made it a priority to become involved and learn about the things that affect the community,” she said. Ms. Aguonie currently sits on the board for Mnaamodzawin, Kina Gbezhgomi, the police commission for the United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin Anishinaabe Police, is the Mnaamodzawin representative for Giiwednong Health Link, a working group member of the Child Well-Being Law at the Union of Ontario Indians, and a working group member of the court pilot project for the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising.
“This is when my eyes were opened on how important it is that we start the process of healing and it starts with us individually,” she said. “We need to start individually before we can work on the community.”
“I can’t snap my fingers and be a miracle worker, but we need to tackle the real solution to get to the root of the problem,” Ms. Aguonie added. “We need to be consistent and never give up.”
Ms. Aguonie reiterated that her work experience, education (she’s a two-time Cambrian College grad), knowledge of the community dynamics, work at the UCCMM developing community blueprints and her last term as councillor all make her an exceptional candidate for chief.
The Sheguiandah First Nation election takes place at the community centre on Wednesday, November 22.