Valarie McGregor has been nominated and declared her candidacy for both positions of chief and councillor in the upcoming Whitefish River First Nation (WRFN) elections next month.
Ms. McGregor grew up in WRFN where she and her partner raise their two children.
“Our two grown children are both college graduates and both employed,” Ms. McGregor told The Expositor. “We are very proud of their accomplishments.”
Ms. McGregor graduated from a nursing program in 1973 and was employed as a registered nursing assistant with the Manitoulin Health Centre for 20 years before she retired and changed her focus to First Nation governance.
“My governance education began in earnest as a community facilitator on the Restoration of Jurisdiction Project,” explained Ms. McGregor. “I worked with the Union of Ontario Indians, liaising between the Union and First Nation communities and gathering input on education and governance. My governance education was further enhanced with 18 accumulative years sitting on various boards of directors, including 15 years on one particular local board.”
Ms. McGregor also worked for WRFN as a governance coordinator for six months, developing a governance strategy in 2009-2010.
“I believe my background has given me the experience to take on this role,” Ms. McGregor continued. “I have a genuine interest in governance and I am in a position that allows my full attention to the challenges associated with First Nation government and its responsibilities to provide fair and equitable representation to all its members.” When asked what her platform is for chief or councillor, Ms. McGregor said that she is “leary of people that want to focus on one issue or concern, because then everything else takes a back seat,” but that her three main priorities are the “First Nation membership, communication and respect.”
“The real governing authority on a First Nation are the people,” explained Ms. McGregor. “Their meaningful, collective input in the decision making or strategic planning process is invaluable. Communication to the membership of the pertinent and timely information, and respect, to treat others as I would have them treat me, are two other priorities that are important to me.”
As for her primary focus if elected, Ms. McGregor told The Expositor, “While the WRFN government can be complex, band council governs numerous programs and services such as lands, economic development, education, health, social services, public works, housing and membership. Each program and service is equally important and deserves band council’s proactive and immediate attention.”
“As the successful candidate for either chief or councillor, I will assure that band council is governed in a manner that builds trust, promotes leadership that is transparent and accountable and is reflective of Anishinabek values,” Ms. McGregor concluded.
Julian Nowgabow comes from a long line of public service, his grandfather and his mother both served as chiefs of the Whitefish River First Nation band council and Mr. Nowgabow himself has served as a councillor on the band council, for which he is also running.
Mr. Nowgabow is single and has lived in Whitefish River First Nation all his life. He describes himself as a “philosopher, poet, artist and musician,” but it is “the plight of our people, the Anishnaabe” that he describes as his greatest motivation in seeking the position at the head of the council table.
“The imposition of the Indian Act was not participatory for us,” he said. “It was plopped down on us and has had a great negative impact on our people. It has caused a lot of stress and there has been a lot of fallout, a lot of intergenerational impact.”
Closer to home, Mr. Nowgabow said that within the community, the upcoming reserve boundary settlement is a matter of great concern to him. “Right now we are in a situation where a land deal will result in the sale of one third of our reserve lands,” he said. Mr. Nowgabow said that he believes the process leading up to negotiation of a deal was conducted with “next to no community input.”
His issue is that the sale of the land, running to the east and including portions of Killarney Provincial Park, will result in the surrender of the band’s rights regarding the land. “It will be an absolute surrender in perpetuity,” he said. “If there are future mineral finds on those lands, we will be left out of the profits from those finds on our lands. We will be out of luck.”
Mr. Nowgabow said that it is his understanding that the process that led to the current deal being placed before the community has already cost the band upwards of $2.25 million. “When you have that kind of thing going on it concerns all the members,” he said. “We should be rejigging the committee and opening it up to all the membership.”
Mr. Nowgabow said that he saw the process as including a “visioning exercise. That is what I would like to do. I feel we should keep the land for our own profit and benefits,” he said. “The process is very complex.”
Mr. Nowgabow would also like to see electoral reform take place with the development of a custom election code and a code of conduct for those elected to office.
“We have an abysmal record when it comes to elections,” he asserted. “A code of conduct would bring greater accountability and help to protect our assets and our people. A code of conduct would protect people from any abuse of power.”
Mr. Nowgabow would like to see an elders council formed that would oversee that code and put in place to prevent future abuses of power.
Natural resources should be managed with the input of the Anishinaabe, he adds. “Right now, our interests are not being considered.”
With the transfer of responsibility for natural resources on Whitefish River First Nation territories to the band, Mr. Nowgabow said he believes the economic impact would solve many of the social and economic challenges facing the community.
Mr. Nowgabow said that he would set up a family fun night, with poetry and storytelling in the language to help bolster Anishinaabemowin and culture.
The candidate has set up a website where people can seek answers to any questions they may have at jules4ogimaa.sim