I have always felt a sense of hope through the Native political organizations that represent my people. For better or worse, we looked up to our leaders at the local level and at the regional level because, at the very least, we knew that there were people out there that were working for our best interests.
Many of us on the James Bay coast were acquainted with our home chiefs and some of us knew who represented other communities in our regional tribal council known as Mushkegowuk Council.
At the provincial level we relied on Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN), which is the political organization that represents the Treaty 9 area of northern Ontario. The organization spans almost all of northern Ontario from the Manitoba border, to the Quebec border, from Hudson Bay in the north and a southern border that follows the Arctic watershed of James and Hudson Bay.
This political entity encompasses 49 First Nations that are either Cree, Ojibway, OjiCree or Algonquin. The 49 chiefs that make up NAN actually cast votes for the grand chief and three deputy grand chiefs.
As a youth, I didn’t understand much about how our political system worked but the personalities I saw and heard were the ones that had the greatest impact on me. Like many from my home community of Attawapiskat, I am proud to know that one of our Elders, Emile Nakogee, had helped to build Nishnawbe-Aski Nation.
Elder Emile Nakogee was a larger than life character who was a passionate speaker when it came to representing our people, our lives and our future. He was a great orator who had a good command of our Cree language and he had a deep knowledge and understanding of our way of life.
He spoke from his heart.
He had grown up in the wilderness on the James Bay coast and during the 1960s and 70s he became a representative for our people when our First Nations leaders began to organize themselves in the Treaty 9 area.
The organization was established in 1973 as Grand Council Treaty 9 and then in 1983 became Nishnawbe-Aski Nation. Previous to the establishment of our local, regional, provincial and national councils we had no voice politically in Canada.
Nishnawbe-Aski Nation is now currently preparing for an election to elect a grand chief and three deputy grand chiefs on Aug. 15 in Chapleau Cree First Nation near Chapleau, Ont. This election will be held as part of the 37th Annual Keewaywin Conference.
The candidates for grand chief for this election are current Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, Muskrat Dam First Nation, and candidate Rosemary McKay, Bearskin Lake First Nation. Those running for the three positions of deputy grand chief are candidates Andrew Solomon, Fort Albany First Nation; Anna Betty Achneepineskum, Marten Falls First Nation; Bobby Narcisse, Aroland First Nation; Derek Fox, Bearskin Lake First Nation; Jason Smallboy, Moose Cree First Nation; Lorraine Crane, Slate Falls First Nation; Randall Crowe, Deer Lake First Nation and Walter Naveau, Mattagami First Nation.
In general, I understand that all of these candidates are good people and I commend them for running for leadership. I know these positions are very challenging and these days everyone has a dim view of politicians. However, we have to remember we finally have a voice in this country politically and we should be thankful our own members are feeling strong enough and confident to represent us.
The candidate I know best is Walter Naveau, the past chief of Mattagami First Nation, who is a good example of how far we have come as a people and he is proof that we can overcome adversity and hardship to develop into a strong leader.
I have had the opportunity to meet and get to know Walter on many occasions over the years. He has passionately advocated for his community and as part of NAN in education, health, environmental, ecological, resource development and political issues.
He has witnessed and lived the hardships and difficulties of our people in the north and he understands deeply what affects our people and especially our youth. Walter has also been instrumental in bringing back cultural and traditional teachings to his home community and the north. He is open, experienced, humble and most importantly is dedicated to continually learning. That is rare.
Walter very much reminds me of our late Elder Emile Nakogee through his ability to be able to passionately speak for our people without losing focus on keeping our young people and our future at the forefront. I have heard Walter speak at various events over the years and, like the Elders and political activists that created Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, he is never afraid to speak up for all of us and to remind the world that our people, our communities and our lives matter.
Like Elder Emile Nakogee, Walter speaks from his heart.
I wish all the candidates running in the NAN election well and I say Meegwetch to them from myself and my people for their courage to rise up and lead us in uncertain times.