Sudbury

New agreement lets 5 Ontario First Nations make their own decisions

The Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement Act received royal assent on June 22 and grants the First Nations power to make their own decisions in four key areas: leadership selection, citizenship, language and culture, and operations and management of government.
Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe says he was relieved when the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement Act received royal assent. (Submitted by the Anishinabek Nation)

Five Ontario First Nations have taken a new step toward self-governance.

The Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement Act received royal assent on June 22 and grants the First Nations power to make their own decisions in four key areas: leadership selection, citizenship, language and culture, and operations and management of government.

"This has taken some time to come to fruition," said Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod.

"But it's a welcome step for us and other First Nations to start moving out of the Indian Act and starting to assert our own governance and jurisdiction in our rightful place."

The other First Nations that are part of the agreement are Moose Deer Point First Nation, Wahnapitae First Nation, Magnetawan First Nation and Zhiibaahaasing First Nation. 

McLeod said Nipissing First Nation has already taken steps to improve its own self-governance with custom band elections and its own rules that outline who can be a citizen.

"So this is just, you know, more or less catching up to the work that we have already been doing," he said.

"Nipissing is a fairly progressive first nation community, so we don't sit around and wait for government. Government spends a lot of time catching up to what we're already doing, but some of the other first nations perhaps don't have the same level of capacity as we have."

McLeod added the agreement is a first step, but the ultimate goal is to have true self-government as an independent nation.

"If somebody stole your car 100 years ago and you're just now getting the tires back of that car, it's not a real celebration in that sense," McLeod said.

"But it's more of a time of reflection to look at the work that needs to be done to get the rest of those parts back and really, truly becoming a self-governing First Nation because, you know, this is not true self-government." 

Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod says the new governance is a first step toward greater independence and self-determination. (Erik White/CBC)

Sense of relief

Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Reg Niganobe said he felt relief when the agreement became law.

He said discussions around more self-determination started 25 years ago.

"The trickiest part of that, a lot of times, was the changing in governments, whether it be Conservative Liberal government or whether it was changing of negotiators," Niganobe said.

"They changed negotiators often. So every time they changed negotiators, you have to, not quite start from scratch, but you'd have to bring that person up to speed each time."

Niganobe added the agreement will change a lot of the five First Nations involved.

"They'll actually have funding to be able to choose their own leadership selection and their processes and how they like to do that," he said.

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