KO hosts First Nations Governance Act Information Session

“Don’t ever block a white man from bringing his machinery up north”, were the words spoken to Geordi Kakepetum by the late Chief Tom Fiddler. Geordi shared these words with over 30 representatives at the KO First Nations Governance Act Information session. This 3 day session is being hosted by Keewaytinook Okimakanak with representatives from each of the KO First Nations. On October 23, 2001, Band Councillors, Elders and Youth representatives from each of the Keewaytinook Okimakanak First Nations gathered in Cochenour Hall for an information session on the First Nations Governance Act Initiative. Ross Mamakeesic along with Peter Campbell read over the letters from Robert Nault and translated it into Oji Cree. More information about INAC's efforts can be found on-line at http://www.fng-gpn.gc.ca/index_e.asp The participants also reviewed the history of the Indian Act and the history of “governance”, which means how a community is run and the rules that apply in its day-to-day operation. We also touched on a few topics from Traditional Land Use to the Corbiere decision and various issues. Continue to watch for updates on this 3 day gathering being held at the Cocheneur Hall from October 23 to 25, 2001. Pictures from this session can be seen at http://photos.knet.ca/KOgovernance. DAY 2: Wednesday, October 24, 2001 The day began with our elder and Band Councillor, Fred Meekis from Deer Lake opening the meeting with a prayer. The grouped discussed about the difference between the different governance initiatives being undertaken within the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. These initiatives include the First Nations Governance Act Initiative and NAN Governance and Education Jurisdiction Program, Some of the participants shared their comments and questions about the Indian Act. Clarifications about what the proposed changes to the act included. After lunch, the elders and the youth were encouraged and supported to share their comments about this process, as it would affect them and their communities. Some of the elders in attendance added their questions and concerns about the difference between the Indian Act and the First Nations Governance Initiative. Ross Mamakeesic, the session coordinator interviewed some elders. They shared their experience including the fact that elections were not customary. Participants were divided into small groups with facilitators and recorders. Members of the groups moved about to see what other groups were outlining concerning the issue of governance as it affects the First Nations and what was best for the people. Sometimes groups met each other.....played games....and transferred information. One of the central concerns shared by many people is the loss of language and traditions of our people. Goyce Kakegamic Deputy Grand Chief of NAN also made a few comments of the First Nations Governance Act and the Indian Act. He also made a clear statement about that the Governance Act is an amendment to the Indian Act. He clarified (on behalf of NAN) are they not against change, they want change. They also recognize change is required and going to happen. The chiefs want partnership and direct input into designing this change which involves any amendments to the Indian Act. Day 3: Thursday, October 25, 2001 The day began with Chief Albert James of McDowell Lake opening the day with a morning prayer. Ross Mamakeesic made some opening remarks providing everyone with a summary about the morning sessions that are being held at the Cochenour Hall. Elders, Chiefs, Band Councillors, Band members, youth, and even an infant showed up. There were 68 people who showed up during the day. Geordi Kakepetum thanked the people for taking the time to listen and for showing their concern and interest in this important matter and for the upcoming events. He also asked one of the Elders present, Aglaba James from McDowell Lake to share a few words with the people. INAC officials provided a slide presentations on the Communities First: First Nations Governance Initiative. They answered any questions that were asked, made clarifications and also wrote down a few concerns from the people of Keewaytinook Okimakanak First Nations. There was a discussion concerning the election of the community leadership, with some people making suggestions on the leadership selection process. Some of these discussions included: * The two main issues focused in this process included the legal standing and capacity and accountability to the First Nation members. The most difficult issue seems to be the legal standing and capacity because there are some mixed messages. * The proposed changes are leaning more to a corporate or municipal status for the First Nation organizations. The concern seems to be an administrative advantage for Department Indian and Northern Affairs Canada by reducing its responsibilities to the First Nations. James Cutfeet responded that they are not here to defend the issues that are being presented.....we are here to gather your views ... referring to the Governance Act. Overall, this was a very informative event. On October 31st, 2001, the initial phase of the community consultation process will be over. INAC officials will gather the information that they collected together. They will then complete a validation phase with the First Nations who participated in this process. When this process is complete they will draft a bill to present to the House of Commons. After the bill has been drafted, the parliament will review it (along with the dialogue with the First Nations). Then the plan is to see the passage of the new legislation that would also include the development of any regulations or First Nation laws that may be needed to implement the new legislation. It is estimated that this process will take 2 to 3 years to complete. For more information on this Governance Act look up the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development Ottawa at www.ainc-inac.gc.ca Notes taken by Cory J. Meekis, Deer Lake First Nation