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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.