Anishinabek Nation on the cusp of big vote on governance agreement 25 years in the making

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020 7:08pm


Image Caption

Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare.


“We were at the table and we know what we’re doing.” —Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare
By Shari Narine Contributor

Updated Feb. 2.:

A Community Notice from Fort William First Nation dated Jan. 29 announced the postponement of the scheduled ratification vote for the nation’s governance agreement.

FWFN was seeking updates on mailing addresses of membership. But the notice also included the following:

“Our Chief and Council will use the time necessary to review and consider all applicable information on the First Nation Governance Agreement… and will notify the membership accordingly.”

Original Story:

Next month, 18 nation members of the Union of Ontario Indians will be holding ratification votes on the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement (ANGA).

After 25 years of negotiations with the federal government, Glen Hare, Anishinabek Nation grand council chief, is excited to finally be in this position. He’s not disappointed that not all 39 member nations are taking the agreement to their citizens at this time.

“It’s a choice,” he said, pointing out that over the years he and many other Anishinabek Nation citizens have demonstrated against the government for forcing federal decisions on them.

“We’re not imposing anything on anybody, on any of our communities. Here’s the agreement. Here’s what comes with the agreement, the fiscal package and the whole thing… We’ve presented all to the citizenship, to the leadership and it’s up to them to make that decision if they want to be part of moving forward.”

Nine more member nations will take the agreement to a ratification vote this spring, he said.

The Anishinabek Nation represents First Nations throughout the province of Ontario from Golden Lake in the east, Sarnia in the south, Thunder Bay and Lake Nipigon in the north. The nations have an approximate combined population of 65,000 citizens, one third of the province of Ontario’s First Nation population, according to the Anishinabek Nation website.

The ANGA gives Anishinabek First Nations the right to make their own decisions and laws about leadership selection, citizenship, government operations, as well as how best to protect and promote Anishinaabe language and culture.

The ANGA has come under criticism with some saying it hasn’t gone far enough and doesn’t offer anything that can’t already be received through existing federal policy.

The agreement is for self-government and not self-determination, said Damien Lee, who was asked by a Fort William First Nation Elder to review the agreement. Fort William First Nation (FWFN) will be holding a ratification vote in February.

In his written review, Lee said the agreement “’domesticates Anishinaabe sovereignty,” setting up a government-to-government relationship with Canada instead of a nation-to-nation relationship.

“In other words, our (Robinson-Huron) treaty will continue to exist, but the ANGA channels FWFN’s relationship with the Crown as if we are simply another group of Canadians (like Ontarians) rather than a peoples who have an international relationship with the British sovereign.

“It is this relationship that sets First Nations apart from all other Canadians,” writes Lee. “The ANGA does not explicitly kill the treaty, but it sets the stage for it to whither (sic) away and die on its own.”

Lee, who is racially white, was adopted as an infant into Fort William First Nation “in accordance with Anishinaabe law.” He is an associate professor in the department of Sociology at Ryerson University and is also an associate fellow at the Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous think tank.

Hayden King, also with the Yellowhead Institute, adds his own criticism of the ANGA.

In his written review of the agreement, King says, “The self-government provisions are limited to what already exists in federal policy and the resources to implement self-government are few.”

The ANGA is “based on the recognition that the inherent right of self-government is an existing aboriginal right within the meaning of section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, without the Parties taking any position with respect to how an inherent right of self-government may be ultimately defined at law,” writes Martin Bayer, chief negotiator for the Anishinabek First Nations, in an address to refute King’s claims.

“This Agreement is a recognition of our existing aboriginal right to govern ourselves in our own way and help to address the historical unacceptable socio-economic conditions that all too often define First Nations,” writes Bayer.

He also points out that each community ratifying the agreement will receive government funding of a minimum $1.7 million in addition to a one-time implementation amount of $548,000.

The ANGA also comes with a complementary Anishinabek Nation Fiscal Agreement. However, the fiscal agreement does not form part of the governance agreement.

Hare says he is disappointed with the opinions and legal reviews that have been carried out as they have not included speaking to Bayer. He says the reviews have served to upset Anishinabek Nation citizens.

“We were at the table and we know what we’re doing,” said Hare.

The Union of Ontario Indians (UOI) is also being accused of pushing the ratification vote without giving citizens enough time to study and discuss the agreement.

“That baffles me when I hear that because this has been in the works for 25 years. How can we be pushing it when we’ve been working on it for 25 years?” said Hare, who spoke to via telephone as he was in the midst of holding urban sessions in the cities and visiting communities to answer questions about the agreement.

“The new things that have come forward are just to enhance the agreement.”

The UOI also hosted a three-day Anishinabek Nation Governance Summit in January in Sault Ste. Marie for chiefs to learn more about the agreement.

The ANGA will be revisited in five years. Hare is confident that once the non-ratifying Anishinabek Nations see the benefits that have been realized through the agreement, they will come onboard.

“This was many years in the making. We’re just finishing the leaderships’ vision 25 years ago,” said Hare.

The vote on the proposed Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement is scheduled for Feb. 1 to Feb. 29. Eligible voters have three options to vote: mail-in ballots, in-person at a polling station, or electronically.