Nbisiing Gichi-Naaknigewin – A Supreme Law of the Land

NFNconstitution2To my Fellow Nbisiing Anishinaabeg/Nipissing Band Members:

It is time for our First Nation to take a real step towards our own self-governance, and more importantly, self-determination.  It is time for Nipissing First Nation to adopt our own Constitution.

Right now, under the existing legislative framework, Nipissing First Nation is nothing more than an arm of the federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.  Under the Indian Act, our Chief and Council and Band administration are simply keepers of the status quo, purveyors of our own poverty, assimilation, oppression and likely extinction.  We have to do something significant.

These are harsh words and criticism over the Indian system, not necessarily our Chief and Council or those others who are trying to work within it.  The Indian Act is nothing more than pure racism, a means of control, dominance and abuse over our people.  We must take steps to move ourselves away from it’s forlorn wretchedness.

But how do we do that?  In the words of my friend Gordon Waindubence, channelling the wisdom from Nike:  “Just do it.”

The movement towards change has to start by having a one “supreme law of the land” – a point of reference that all subsequent acts, regulations and policies can adhere to.  If we were to start over, develop our system of governance, our legislative, judicial and administrative frameworks – where would we start?  A Constitution.

I was pleased to have been there at the beginnings of the Anishinabek constitutional discussions.  In 1995, the Union of Ontario Indians began negotiating two self-government agreements with Canada, first in education, and a few years later in 1998, in core governance. These negotiations are still progressing in the final agreement stage.  Very early in these discussions, the Chiefs and their advisors realized that Canada’s point of reference was two-fold, the Indian Act (the source of the Minister’s delegated authority) and the Inherent Right Policy (the policy directive that defines Indian self-government).  Neither of these truly apply to the Anishinabek as nations or people, nor does it reflect our needs, aspirations and unique culture.  Our focus at that point was to figure out how to restore our own jurisdiction.  What is the role of the Anishinabek Nation – Union of Ontario Indians?  What was the role of our Clans?  What were the roles of individual First Nation communities?  In 2004, while I was working in the Grand Council Chief’s office, we began to work on Constitution development to fill those voids.  The Anishinabek Nation Constitution was proclaimed by the Chiefs-in-Assembly on June 6, 2012.

During this exciting time, the member First Nations of the Anishinabek Nation began to research and study their own constitutional needs.  I remember raising this and supporting this when I was on Band Council back in 2002.  To truly assert our own jurisdiction, we need to know where we have come from and where we were going.  We set in place a strategic plan, hosted constitutional workshops and began to explore the development of a Nipissing First Nation Constitution.

Through the work of my uncle, respected leader Fred McLeod Jr., our very own homegrown lawyer Fred Bellefeuille, our elected leadership, working group members and dedicated staff – we have come to the point where the Nipissing First Nation constitution is a reality.  We now have words on a page that reflect our needs, aspirations and culture.  The words will be our legislative point of reference.  These words will be our future supreme law of the land.

The Nipissing First Nation Constitution – Nbisiing Gichi-Naaknigewin, if accepted, will be applicable on our lands, by our people, our guests and those who do business with us.

But right now, they are only words.  Those words now require Spirit which will be provided through sharing, acceptance and ceremony.  Sharing, acceptance and ceremony refers to consultation, ratification and celebration.  Body, Mind and Spirit.

It is not, however, THE supreme law.  It need not be confused with Sacred Anishinaabe Law.  Our Creator, through the Original Instructions and Sacred Gifts given to Anishinaabe through our Ancestors, remains our most important law.  Having reflected on Gichi-Naaknigewin, through academic analysis and in ceremony and prayer, I feel that these words are indeed consistent with Sacred Anishinaabe Law.  It is well thought-out, respectful, consistent with our traditional values, and ultimately ensures the protection and survival of our people and nationhood.  It does have Spirit and a purpose which needs to be acknowledged and accepted.

Over the next few weeks, our NFN leadership will be moving forward in a consultation and ratification process to formally accept the Nbisiing Gichi-Naaknigewin.  I urge you to review the document and ask questions.  Moreover, I urge our community to support our Constitution as a major first step towards self-government and self-determination.  I look forward to publishing future Blogs and information to help you make an informed choice.

Miigwetch.

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