Posts tagged ‘Boundary Settlement’

Nbisiing Citizenship and the Trust

NFNconstitution2I just got back from a walk this morning and was giving some thought to some social media comments I read about the Nipissing First Nation Boundary Claim Trust.  Last week, our First Nation began consultations to discuss what to do with about $2.2 million in interest earned by the Boundary Claim Trust that was settled in 2013. This income needs to be moved or else it will be subject to taxation.

Setting aside that $2.2 million is not really a lot of money for a community our size. Set aside further that a decision could have been made to simply move it to another Band-owned investment fund that would protect it from taxation.

I take significant issue with those who want to distribute any further funds on a per capita basis. In other words, divide it up and spend it.

Back when our community voted on the trust two years ago, I felt we had already made the mistake of distributing a massive cash payment of $20,000 to every Band member. Sure it was nice to get new windows and some new siding for my home. I am thankful for that. My point at the time was that the settlement of $179 million over an unresolved reserve boundary doesn’t belong to us individually simply because we were voting on it. This restitution for Canada’s swindle belongs to the Treaty signatories, our ancestors, Nbisiing citizens and our future citizens, from now to the seventh generation and beyond. This money needs to leave a long lasting legacy or else it will be for nothing. I’ll repeat for emphasis: long-lasting legacy. (Think of the three “L’s”.)

But notice in the above paragraph I referred to Nbisiing citizens – NOT Nipissing First Nation Band Members.

Citizenship has everything to do with our Gichi-Naaknigewin, our constitution, and should have very little to do with the Indian Act and some list managed by some dutiful bureaucrat in Ottawa.

Debendaagziwaad refers to the people, the citizens of the Nipissing First Nation. In our language, it means “those who belong” to our community.

These citizens go beyond current Indian Act registered Band members. I’ll give you a real-life examples from within my family:

My beautiful wife – who just happens to be a member of another Band – certainly has a right to be a part of this community and has a significant stake in the future of our First Nation. She most definitely belongs here as a part of our family, our community and our nation. She is truly Debendaaziwaad.

My boys – who just happen to be members of another Band – have just as much Nbisiing blood running through their veins and connection to the community as those registered under Section 6.1 in the Indian Register. They are most definitely Debendaaziwaad.

My future grandchildren – who may not be entitled to be register as a Status Indian – will know they are Anishinaabe and that they belong here. They too will be Debendaaziwaad.

You may have your own personal, real-life examples. All Debendaaziwaad should have the right to services and benefits from Nipissing First Nation. All Debendaaziwaad should have a right to hold land. All Debendaaziwaad should have a right to vote in our elections.

All Debendaaziwaad certainly have the right to see benefit arising from the Boundary Claim trust.

I’m not advocating any further per capita payouts. As far as I’m concerned, no one has a right to spend the money that belongs to generations of Debendaaziwaad yet unborn. However, we are all entitled to see benefit from the long-lasting legacy of this land claim settlement.

Nor should we be so community-centric that we are considering capital and program benefits that will solely benefit on-reserve citizens. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of need here. We need infrastructure, community growth and to create economic programs that will take pressure off our Lake Nipissing fishery. However, how will that lend itself to showing a long-lasting legacy for those Debendaaziwaad who live off-reserve? Consider this even further. How will this ensure a long-lasting legacy for those future generations who live off-reserve?

Perhaps we can consider creating a citizenship program that will reach out to off-reserve Debendaaziwaad, instil community pride, and provide cultural education to ensure all members have a lasting connection with our community and their citizenship as Nbisiing Anishinaabeg.

A long-lasting legacy means fostering strong Nbisiing Debendaaziwaad with a valued, and tangible connection to their home and their Nbisiing family.

Boundary Claim Vote Tomorrow

Get Out & Vote

This is my last opportunity to reach out to Nbisiing Anishinaabeg to reiterate the importance of getting out to vote.

Your vote is your power.

  • If you like the settlement and want to see the community benefit from a significant infusion of new funds…  Vote Yes.
  • By all means, if you don’t like the settlement and don’t want to resolve this long-standing dispute with the government…  Vote No.
  • If you want to make use of the settlement funds and establish a new, more comprehensive Community Trust.  Vote Yes to the Trust.
  • Also, if you don’t like the direction Council is taking us by resolving the boundary dispute, you can vote for new leadership in 2015.
  • Finally, if you don’t want this Chief, Deputy Chief and Councillor on the Community Trust, you can vote for new candidates in 2015.

Please get out and vote tomorrow, Saturday, March 23, 2013.

Polls open at 9 a.m. in Duchesnay and Garden Village.

Mistrust

Sadly, many of our people are still clouded by mistrust.  And because of how we continue to be treated by the government, it’s not getting any better.  We’re all so mistrustful of government, Prime Minister Harper, the Department, and even our own Band Council and staff.  We want to stand up and fight and make things right by our own actions.  We want to call upon that near-dormant Ogitchidaa spirit in all of us.

To be vocal empowers us.  To rise-up empowers us.  To stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the front lines of political idealism and civil disobedience empowers us.

At the same time mistrust clouds us.  Anger clouds us.  Frustration clouds us.

This is not our way.  We shouldn’t be jaded by those that seek to hurt us.  We only serve to hurt ourselves.  We need to be living by the way that was given to us by the Creator, Gzhemnidoo.  It was through that kindness, gentleness and intellect that we as Anishinaabe are able to see things clearly and make good decisions for the benefit of seventh generation.

The only way we can ascend from this despair is through Unity and Nationhood.  We will also need our own lands, our own economy and means of sustainability.  Ultimately, this settlement will mean purchasing more reserve lands, funding to establish our own constitutional governance structures, funding to support community health, culture and youth programs.

What if I vote “no”?

It’s great to say “Idle No More” and turn around and vote “no”.  It’s quite empowering.  Sure, you will have stuck it to Council. You’ve stuck it to the government.  You’ve stuck it to the man!  You get to go home with your head held high.

But sure as the sun rises, you’ll wake up the next morning to the same lack of opportunity, mistrust and lack of outlook that you’re living with now.

Intellectual Empowerment

The Anishinaabe, particularly the Nbisiing Anishinaabeg, have chosen intellectual empowerment over aggression.  Our history talks of how our ancestors used our strategic relationships, the Confederacy, traditional knowledge and spiritual power to overcome challenges to our sovereignty.  We have always used negotiation to defend our interests and benefit our community.  Even during the 1850 Robinson Treaty, only the Nbisiing and Okikendawt head-men stood up to the Treaty Commissioner and said what was offered wasn’t enough.  As a result, our two First Nations received additional benefits that is written directly into the Treaty.

Our Chief and headmen also journeyed to Ottawa to support their fellow Chiefs long before there was a road through our territory.

Even after we were massacred and driven from our homelands, it was our skills as diplomats and allies that led us back to our homelands.  Other nations, were driven from their homelands forever.

Sometimes, negotiation and settlement provides us more benefit than mistrust and opposition.  In this case, the opportunity and intellectual empowerment, once again, significantly benefits the Nbisiing Anishinaabeg.  Benefit and opportunity that we will see for generations to come.

A Few Words on The Trust

[youtube]http://youtu.be/1GY9xEBSaP4 [/youtube]

What Your Boundary Settlement Vote Means

Voting “No” means:

  • No settlement.  This means Nipissing First Nation members, present and future, will not have per-capita money nor funds in trust.
  • No certainty.  Without the Nipissing First Nation Boundary Settlement agreement, the only option to force a land and cash settlement is federal court.  But the courts have historically not included land in these kinds of settlements.  So the reality is, we would need to roll the dice and hope the court orders a settlement of more than $129 million.  It’s really a long shot.
  • No sense.  There is really no financial, legal or strategic benefit to a “no” vote.

Voting “Yes” means:

  • A fair and just settlement.  We are being compensated for loss of historical use, inflation, and fair market value.  We are getting the value for the land back, and more!!  For a boundary claim, $129 million is absolutely unheard of in Canada.
  • A Per Capita distribution.  This is not my favourite selling point but would pay a lot of bills for many Band members who truly need it.
  • Unprecedented Opportunity.  This is an incredible opportunity for our current and future generations of Nbisiing Anishinaabeg.  It will have a tremendous impact and benefit to our community, more than we’ve seen in any generation.

There is a lot we can do with these funds:

  • Buying more reserve land in more “hospitable” areas.  The boundary lands in question are either already in use or mainly in swampy, inaccessible areas;
  • Leveraging mortgage programs and additional lands for housing loans.
  • More community social housing.
  • Improved infrastructure for Yellek and Duchesnay.
  • Treatment programs and facilities for prescription drug abusers, not only for us, but for First Nations across the North.  A regional prescription drug abuse facility would be a tremendous asset for our community and create jobs and revenue.
  • Community youth and recreational programming.
  • A Nipissing First Nation Post-Secondary Education Bursary Program.
  • Finally, fulfilling our community vision of an Anishinaabe elementary school.
  • A long-term care facility.  It would be a dream come true if my Mom can spend her last days, looking out on the Lake she loves so much, surrounded by her family and friends in a home on our First Nation.

But this won’t happen without a “yes” vote.  It won’t happen if we decided to spend it all “per capita” on the current membership.  It also won’t happen without putting some trust and faith in our advisors and leadership to act on our behalf.  If you feel you’re not being heard or served, please run for Council, sit on a Committee or volunteer to be a Trustee.

Nipissing Boundary Claim Settlement Agreement

Over the past few days, I’ve spent some significant time and effort in reviewing the Nipissing First Nation Boundary Claim ratification package.  I’ve also asked some questions of my leaders and their advisors.  I’m confident in the advice and recommendations that I am providing to my family, and to you, our community members.

I also acknowledge the differences in analysis and opinions that we will see throughout this process.  Healthy, informed debate is positive.  The following represents my opinion and analysis as a Band member, and does not represent the views of my First Nation or any other person other than yours truly.

First and foremost, this is about our land.  In their dealings with our community and our past leadership, the Dominion of Canada shortchanged the Nipissing Band of Ojibways in the establishment of our initial reserve lands.  The government-conducted surveys in 1852 and 1882, did not set out the Nipissing No. 10 reserve as it was described in the 1850 Robinson Huron Treaty.  After repeated requests and assertions by our past leaders, the government consistently turned a blind eye to our concerns.  Unfortunately, this issue was not dealt with by the government until now. 

SPECIFIC CLAIMS

It was our elected leadership, with the vision and support of the Nbisiing Nation Lands Staff that persisted in righting this wrong.  Although the Specific Claim was put forward for consideration and accepted for negotiation in 2008, the Band spent over 11 years researching and legitimizing our claim.  This is no easy feat.

I’ve been privy to quite a few land claim processes across Canada over the years.  We should feel privileged and honoured that our community leaders and staff have persisted and brought us to this point.

Specific Claims negotiations are also quite complex and haven’t showed the success that both the federal government and First Nations across the country had hoped for.  For the Nbisiing Nation to show success in the acceptance and the negotiation of a settlement agreement is really a testament to their aptitude, fortitude and commitment.  We shouldn’t take this lightly.  A settlement like this and what it took to get it to this place shouldn’t be discounted.  It truly has been done for all of us in a good way.

If you intend to vote “no”, you need to understand that rejection of this Settlement Agreement will mean uncertainty and can set us back many years.

SEVEN GENERATIONS

The most difficult part of this for me, is to set aside my own needs in the ratification of this settlment, and consider future generations.

Anishinaabe teachings tell us that when we make these kinds of important decisions, we must not only consider our immediate needs, but the needs of Seven Generations into the future.  We have to think beyond our Great-grandson’s great Grandson.  To his Great-grandson’s, Great-granddaughter… somewhere in the year 2213.  I’ll call her Mildred Goulais.

Millie looks just like me, long curly hair, a cute smile and big feet.  She exists in the far future Nbisiing Nation community, still on the north shore of Lake Nipissing, hopefully long after the Indian Act has been replaced.  Will she know the benefits from the 2013 boundary claim settlement?  Will she be living on new, additional community lands?  Will she have a thriving government?  Will she have a good school, clean drinking water and adequate community services?  Will her community have eliminated prescription drug abuse?  To me these are my benchmarks in considering this ratification vote.

A FAIR AND JUST SETTLEMENT

It all comes down to whether or not we feel this is a fair and just settlement, and whether or not we can do better.

Rationale, settlement formulae, and offers-to-settle have gone back and forth between Nbisiing and Canada.  They consider some important, but complex economic and market value considerations.  The settlement of $123.9 million represents a significant movement in the initial offer from Canada.  I’m going to ask further questions about how this came about.  But to me, that shows the strength of our negotiation position and a balance of what our negotiators were willing to receive.  It’s always difficult to determine what we are “owed” or what we “deserve” as these questions are much more subjective.  But if we ask ourselves, is this a fair and just settlement?  I believe that it is.

Perhaps, the Nbisiing Nation could have held out for more.  However, our negotiators (and we as Nbisiing citizens) have to take a principled approach to negotiation, settlement and analysis.

Our community has to ask the question:

Q:  Do we have a better chance at getting a bigger settlement and better terms in Federal Court?

A:  Unfortunately, no one can predict the results of going to court.  Although we have a good case for the boundary claim, the settlement and compensation factors will still be decided upon by formula, including fair market value assessments as well as the consumer price index.  Likely, we would win the claim in court, but may just as likely get a less lucrative deal.

Q:  Is this settlement better than we have now? 

A:  Obviously, we’re better off with the settlement.

The ratification choice to me comes to how the settlement will be disbursed.  There has been a lot of internet dialogue and discussion at community meetings over this question.

PER CAPITA PAYOUT

First, the per capita payout.  Personally, I’m not a big proponent of a cash payout.  Sure, these moneys are my right and privilege, but it’s also the right and privilege of Ms. Mildred Goulais in 2213.  If I take 10 per cent from her, immediately, that’s a lot less that she will benefit from collectively with her fellow Nbisiing citizens of the future.

I am profoundly against anyone suggesting we take 100 per cent or even 50 per cent right now.

I think 10 per cent is fair because we should have compassion for our citizen’s needs right now.  Without the survival and support to this generation of Nbisiing people, we cannot possibly ensure the best interests of future generations.  We are dealing with many social issues, like poverty, alcoholism, drug dependency and so on.  This money can mean a leg up for some people to pay their bills, treat their addictions issues, or put themselves through school.  If the money is used for these purposes, it will benefit future generations even if it is spent right now.

On the other hand, if this $10,000 goes to feed an oxycodone addition, it will literally snuff out an entire generation.  This is a factor that really needs to be addressed with the benefits of the Trust.  Perhaps the Band needs to invest in a community-based additions program that works.

THE TRUST

Second, we must consider the Nipissing Nation Trust as the vehicle for the settlement.  A settlement cannot go anywhere else.  It must be placed in a designated trust.

A trust means “trust”.  A group of people are given our trust to manage and invest settlement funds on our behalf.  It is administered and advised by financial professionals.  Ladies and gentlemen, the designated Nipissing Nation Trust has been in place for almost 19 years, dutifully managing our past settlements and collective assets.  Band members have served on the Trust during this time.  As far as I know, it is a well-oiled machine of fairly good financial management.  We’ve been privy to the financial statements and reports from the Trust.

Some people have said that we need more Band Members on the Trust rather than Council members.  That sounds good in principle.  However, I have to advise caution against this.  You see, the Trust is a separate corporation from the Nbisiing Nation.  A corporation does not have an election code or firm rules on how it is governed.  It is well regulated, but it can still set it’s own bylaws.

Let me tell you a story.  A number of years ago, one First Nation allowed a faction of members-at-large to take over the corporation.  They changed the bylaws of the corporation and the community lost entire control.  This wasn’t just the loss of control of administration and investment, they lost control of the spending and the proceeds.  The Band attempted to take the trustees to court, even petitioning all the way to the Supreme Court.  In the end, the court found that the Band could not resume control.  All the benefits and administration now, forever, lie out of the First Nation’s official reach.

Sure we can have more elected trustees.  That’s worth exploring.  But if you don’t have the right kind of principled people involved, those same trustees can also change the rules.  With Band Councillors sitting on the Trust, at least we know that elected officials and the Nbisiing Nation will always retain control of the trust for the benefit of the entire community.

QUESTIONS THAT NEED TO BE ASKED

Now that we have come to the ratification… and now that the Nbisiing Nation has consulted and informed our community, we have to ask ourselves some important questions and begin to formulate our answers.

Questions we need to ask now:

  • Do we agree to the terms and conditions of the Boundary Settlement Agreement?  YES
  • Do we agree that the compensation be deposited into the Nipissing Trust?  We may have concerns over the trust, but the settlement funds must be placed in a designated community trust.  Although we reserve the right to examine the Trust’s structure and composition in the future, we must vote YES.
  • Do we surrender all claims related to these lands now that we have a settlement?  Although it certainly pains me to say so, and now that our First Nation is receiving a fair and just settlement, the answer is YES.
  • Do we authorize the Band to sign the final agreement?  YES

Questions that we can ask in the future:

  • Can we review the composition and structure of the Nbisiing Nation Trust, including adding trustees and changing how we select them?  Although we need to be cautious and need to protect the future integrity and communal control of the Trust, certainly YES.
  • Can we review the criteria on how the Trust can spend these resources to ensure they are invested and spent on approved purposes (such as a community-based additions treatment program) that will benefit all Nbisiing citizens to the seventh generation?  YES

Sure, our elected Chief and Council could say “no” to these last two questions.  If that’s the case, we can also easily find candidates that will respond to our needs and concerns at every election.  If our Band Council is taking the Trust in a direction that we don’t agree with, we can also replace them.  After all, that’s what elections are for.

RECOMMENDATION

It is my recommendation and advice, that Nbisiing Nation citizens vote “YES” to approve the Settlement Agreement, on behalf of our citizens now and to the Seventh Generation.  I feel this is a fair and just settlement of these past wrongs, based on loss of use, fair market value and consumer price economics.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I want to thank my Chief and Council, and past-Councils over the years for maintaining their resolve in reaching a settlement on this matter.  It’s been trying and frustrating at times.  Miigwetch.

I also want to thank my aunt, Joan McLeod, for being the front-line general, as well as the strong woman behind the scenes for bringing this settlement to fruition.  The Land Code and this settlement will be your long lasting legacy for many generations to come.  A special thanks to your land staff, Cathy, Lee, Diane as well as your team of advisors.  Your hard work for our community is appreciated.  Chi-miigwetch.