Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Twenty-seven years of negotiations have resulted in five of 39 Anishinabek Nations signing a governance agreement with the federal government.
The first ratification votes for the Anishinabek Nations Governance Agreement (ANGA) got underway in February 2020 with 14 Nations taking part.
Of the five Nations that signed the agreement with Canada on April 6 —Moose Deer Point, Wahnapitae, Nipissing, Magnetawan and Zhiibaahaasing—only Moose Deer Point and Wahnapitae ratified the agreement with a first vote in February 2020.
Neither Nipissing nor Magnetawan met the voter threshold for that first vote, although those who did vote were in favour. The voter threshold is 25 per cent of eligible voters plus one. In February 2021, with no threshold required, a straight majority vote for both Nations ratified the ANGA.
Zhiibaahaasing held its vote mid-November to mid-December 2020 and ratified the ANGA the first time around.
Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Reg Nigonabe says he’s not surprised the uptake has been slow.
“Considering what the agreement gets into and the issues around the agreement in terms of the four pillars that it takes over from the Indian Act, we always find that there’s always hesitation,” he said.
The ANGA gives 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.
Voting has also been impacted by “outside influences that have made an issue” of the ANGA, said Nigonabe.
The Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous think-tank out of Ryerson University, has been critical of the ANGA.
Right after the April 6 signings, Hayden King, executive director of the institute, tweeted that the ANGA “formalizes INAC’s custom code process as ‘self-government’ and sets a bad precedent for everyone else.”
In a written review before the February 2020 vote, King said “The self-government provisions are limited to what already exists in federal policy and the resources to implement self-government are few.”
Damien Lee, also of the Yellowhead Institute, was asked by a Fort Williams First Nation Elder to review the ANGA. He said the agreement was for self-government and not self-determination and “‘domesticates’ Anishinaabe sovereignty.”
“I think there’s always more power to be gained especially when you’re a First Nation,” said Nigonabe. “This governance agreement isn’t meant to be a final stopping place for these First Nations.”
He says Nations can develop other agreements or pursue other endeavours within the ANGA framework or change the ANGA.
He also points out that the ANGA opens a direct line of communication between these five Nations and Ottawa.
“(They) also have a relationship with the federal government. They have an implementation table and they have a ministers’ table to do that with the Canadian government now,” said Nigonabe.
The ANGA comes with government funding of a minimum $1.7 million in addition to a one-time implementation amount of $548,000.
This is not the first agreement with the federal government that has been put to member Anishinabek Nations in the past few years. In 2018, 23 Anishinabek Nations signed on to an education agreement and in 2021, 22 Nations signed on to the Child Well-Being Law.
“I think those ones were a little bit more of a high priority issue…There’s a lot of questions around elections and citizenship and management of operations. Those are big issues that people don’t want to rush into and I can totally understand that…until they’re ready. These First Nations found they were and they moved ahead on it,” said Nigonabe. “It’s exciting and an excellent opportunity for those five.”
There are three other Anishinabek Nations in the process of taking steps to ratify the agreement.
The Nations that have ratified the ANGA now need to pass their own laws to create their own governance system. However, says Nigonabe, those laws do not have to be in place before the ANGA comes into force.
It is expected that the federal government will pass legislation to bring the ANGA into effect no later than October.
The ANGA is the first self-government agreement of its kind in Ontario. Negotiations between Canada and the Ontario Union of Indians/Anishinabek Nations began in 1995 and led to an agreement-in-principle in 2007. That agreement was finalized in 2019.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.