Whitefish River First Nation votes against governance agreement

BIRCH ISLAND – Whitefish River First Nation (WRFN) has completed its vote on whether to ratify the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement (ANGA) and the vote failed by 22 votes, 167 against to 145 in favour.

A release from chief and council congratulated the community on its decision, “whether you voted for or against the agreement, we congratulate all who took the time to vote and make your voices heard in this decision.”

The release goes on to note the ANGA was first drafted in 1995, and reflected “the vision past chiefs had for a better future. Today, the agreement includes provisions for self-government and funding for language, citizenship, elections and band support. It’s a good agreement—but did not resonate with you.”

For several decades the First Nations leadership have railed against the colonial provisions of the Indian Act and the need to reassert First Nation sovereignty. The ANGA was hailed by most chiefs as a major step to reasserting jurisdiction in those four areas.

“Voting on agreements such as this one can be tough,” continues the letter to the community, “and there may be strong feelings all around. Know that those feelings are there because we as a community are passionate and committed to building a better future for the next seven generations. On that, we can definitely all agree.”

The ANGA came with over $4 million in federal transfers to cover the costs of administration of the four areas being removed from under the Indian Act, but a number of concerns over tacit recognition of Canadian sovereignty over Indigenous lands resonated.

Proponents of the ANGA suggested that, while the agreement is not perfect and the rights it affirms are natural to First Nations jurisdiction, fighting in the courts to assert those rights would divert funds better utilized in providing services to their communities.

The decision made, WRFN said it would continue to move forward.

“What that future will look like is in our hands,” reads the release. “Together, we will move forward and do the work required to realize our vision.”

Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare expressed disappointment in the result of the vote, but noted that it was the community’s decision. He said he felt the federal government was setting up First Nations to fail, given the formula for the vote. “Nobody else has to meet a threshold of voters like this,” he said. “How many times do you go to the vote?”

Grand Council Chief Hare noted that even when a band enters into the ANGA, they can chose to opt out after five years. “It really isn’t that much of a risk,” he said.

Currently, Sheshegwaning, Deer Moose Point and Wahnapitae First Nations have voted in favour of the vote, with Sheshegwaning setting up for the second phase vote and seven other First Nations going to the polls sometime around February.

At stake for WRFN was approximately $4.5 million and the employment opportunities that would have accrued to the community as they began fulfilling the roles currently undertaken by Indian Act bureaucrats.