SHEGUIANDAH FIRST NATION—Last Tuesday, September 25 saw officials from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) attend a meeting with the chief and council of the Sheguiandah First Nation following nearly two months of public protesting led by two of the community’s councillors—Derek Assiniwe and Kevin Mishibinijima.
The meeting with INAC had been scheduled for earlier in the month of September, but had been cancelled the week prior by Councillor Jake Ago neh. Last Tuesday’s meeting was held at the Elks Hall in Espanola—neutral territory for the chief and council.
“I thought it went well,” Chief Orville Aguonie told The Expositor following the meeting last week, noting that he had to excuse himself for a previously scheduled meeting in Sudbury two hours in. “I was able to express the community views (to INAC). It was good to have an impartial audience to share the ‘dirty tricks,’ as I call them, of the two councillors.”
The dirty tricks Chief Aguonie refers to is the fact Councillors Assiniwe and Mishibinijima wrote to the band’s branch of TD Canada Trust in Sudbury, asking for a shutdown of the First Nation’s finances in light of the protest (the protest was still on at the time) which came in the form of a letter on Sheguiandah First Nation letterhead. The two councillors say that this was not an underhanded move but was rather a measure to ensure that band finances included their input.
The chief called the meeting “an information session” for the councillors on the Indian Act. “The meeting was mostly for their benefit,” he said. Councillor Ago neh did not attend the meeting with INAC, as he was working in Timmins that day, Chief Aguonie explained.
Councillor Assiniwe told The Expositor he would not comment on the nature of the meeting with INAC, but said he was pleased to have the federal representatives present.
“Right now we’re still considering all of our legal options and carefully weighing them,” he added.
According to the chief, Councillors Mishibinijima and Assiniwe attempted to attend the meeting with lawyers present, but the attorneys were asked to leave by INAC. Before leaving the meeting, the chief said he had a private discussion with one of the INAC representatives telling her that Indian Affairs cannot force the two sides to come together, adding that he still hopes to see the two councillors removed from the council table.
“If they’re really committed to moving forward, there’s a whole pile of business that’s been building up for a while,” Chief Aguonie continued, adding that another meeting could be held, again on neutral territory and with INAC present, to deal with this and this only. “She (the INAC representative) agreed that it would be a sign of good faith.”
“We’re doing all kinds of good things,” the chief said of his office. “We’ve started a community fishing project (between Sheguiandah Bay and Heywood Island) in our traditional fishing grounds, we have new lights for the rink so the kids can skate after dark, new radios for the firefighters and a tower installed and we finally got the windshield (on the fire truck) repaired.”
The chief said a hearing will soon be scheduled for Councillors Assiniwe and Mishibinijima to answer to himself and Councillor Ago neh as to why they missed three consecutive band meetings.
Chief Aguonie also had a proposal for the two councillors: “my proposal is that we bring in an independent, third-party person to assess the running of band affairs. The findings will be published, both on-reserve and to other reserves, to the public and I know the findings will be good. I propose that if the findings turn out good, the councillors tender their resignations.”
“I have absolutely nothing to hide and I would welcome that (investigation),” he added.
Councillor Assiniwe said the chief’s proposal did not make much sense to him, as the group would have to get together to handpick a person to do such an internal investigation. “If he had a serious proposal, he would have notified the other councillors and notify Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada like we have done in the past,” he said. “I question why he went to the media with this first.”
Chief Aguonie said that clearing his name following the protest is very important, so much so, he said, he is suing the two councillors for defamation of character. “Whether the protest goes away or not, this won’t change what’s been said about me,” he said. The councillors would not comment on the alleged legal action.
Councillor Assiniwe said he found it interesting that the chief was asking himself and Councillor Mishibinijima to resign. “If he’s asking us to resign, he’s acknowledging that we’re still members of council,” he said.
“Although our presence isn’t seen along the highway, we’re still moving ahead to have some of these issues resolved,” the councilor said.