Women from northern Ontario First Nation plan to 'dehorn' their chief

A group of elected clan grandmothers intend to remove the only chief a small northern Ontario First Nation has ever known using a traditional practice called a 'seven woman dehorning'.

'7 woman dehorning' part of Ojibway Nation of Saugeen traditional practices, Neecha Dupuis says

Neecha Dupuis (left) and Darlene Necan are part of a traditional process to remove a chief, called a seven women dehorning, at the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen in northwestern Ontario. (Jody Porter/CBC)

A group of elected clan grandmothers intend to remove the only chief a small northern Ontario First Nation has ever known using a traditional practice called a 'seven woman dehorning'.

Edward Machimity has been chief of the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen First Nation, about 400 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay, Ont., since the reserve was created in 1986.

For decades, there has been tension between the approximately 75 community members who live on the reserve and the 150 or so who do not.

Using traditional practices to change leadership "is positive, it's empowering and it gives me hope for the people who were raised off reserve to come home and have something to culturally define you and know where you come from," said Neecha Dupuis, a community member currently living in Ottawa.

The Ojibway Nation of Saugeen uses a custom leadership selection process, that leaves it outside election rules established by the Indian Act and which has permitted Machimity to remain a hereditary chief for decades.

"It is the intention of the [band] council to continue to meet and hear the concerns of the membership," Machimity said in a faxed message to CBC News.

"It continues to be the council's position that our elders should provide guidance to our council so that our community will continue to grow and benefit from economic development opportunities, including the Ring of Fire [mineral development]," Machimity said in the fax.

'Foreign governments'

But Dupuis said community members she has spoken to want to take a different approach, so they consulted the elder who developed the custom code more than a decade ago and began looking into the traditional practices for removing a chief. 

"It's about being given that chance to actually be listened to and to actually prove that we can do it without foreign governments that pretty much dictate how we live," she said.

Some community members met in March in Ignace, Ont., and then again on May 21 on the reserve, to enact the change in leadership, according to a letter sent to Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett last month.

"We gathered, we have taken the action of the seven women dehorning Chief Edward Machimity within our Custom and Usage Convention Governance," says the letter written by Darlene Necan, one of the seven newly-elected clan grandmothers.

The letter, signed by all seven women and a dozen witnesses, says Machimity was invited to the community meeting but did not attend.

"We are submitting the signatory names and signatures from witnesses to your office for verification, as proof of our inherent rights," it says.

The Prime Minister, the Ontario Premier and several others are copied on the letter. Dupuis said there has been no response from any of the officials yet.