There have been some major developments taking place over the last several years with First Nation politics at Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN). NAN is a regional political body that represents First Nation people in Northern Ontario. For some time now NAN has been involved in a Self Governance negotiation process with the federal government. This process is happening with First Nations across Canada. I learned a lot about this initiative from those who are currently part of this process. People like Barney Batise, Community Research Coordinator for Wabun Tribal Council has provided me with a lot of insight on what is taking place between NAN and the federal government.
Recently he organized and coordinated an event in Timmins to inform First Nation people about this process. I did not have a full understanding of this development until I attended the NAN Self Governance public consultation meeting at the Timmins Native Friendship Centre. There have been several consultation meetings taking place in many First Nation communities in the NAN area but this was the first to happen in an urban community where there are many Native people. It was a very informative event that featured presentations by the people who are directly involved in the NAN Self Governance process. I was impressed with the dedication and the caring attitude that the members of the negotiating team conveyed. We can be thankful that we are well represented by our chief negotiator, Dr. Emilie Faries. We can also feel comfortable that the government’s chief negotiator is a kind and sensitive man by the name of Stephen Smart. With people like Stan Beardy, the Grand Chief of NAN, to keep an eye on the process we know our rights will be protected.
One of the issues discussed and explained at the Timmins event was the fact that this process has nothing to do with the ongoing Governance Act that is being pursued by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. The NAN Self Governance process is fully supported by the leaders and the Chiefs of NAN whereas the Governance Act has been rejected and not supported by many First Nation organizations, including NAN.
It was in 1997 that the Chiefs of NAN agreed to begin a Governance Sectoral Negotiation process with the federal government. This meant that the leadership of NAN could begin to discuss with the federal government different aspects of self governance. NAN has started the sectoral negotiation process by concentrating on the areas of governance and education jurisdiction. This is an important first step in the negotiation process in that the Chiefs and the leadership of NAN believe that these two areas will affect future developments in the self governance process. The goal of this whole process is to negotiate a new form of governance and control that will be operated by First Nations.
This is a major stepping stone for First Nation leadership in the NAN area. It will greatly impact my people and will provide more control and the opportunity to govern our own initiatives. The process is also not being hurried by the NAN leadership. It will take several years before it will be fully realized and implemented. Currently it is in a preparatory stage that will inform and consult with the First Nation people of NAN to gather their input and feedback on the process. This is necessary in order to move to the framework agreement stage, then to the agreement in principal and lastly to a final agreement Before any agreement is set in motion and acted upon, the final agreement will be presented to the First Nation communities of NAN who will then vote on whether they want their community to become part of the agreement or not. This is an important part of the process that allows the people to decide on what they want.
This is a major development for my people that will give us the choice to create, develop and maintain our own initiatives for the benefit of our people. It is good to know that our leaders understand the importance of getting people’s input into a process that will directly affect their lives. My only concern is that we may move too quickly with this process. It has taken us more than a hundred years to end up with the current system and we should know that it may take us a long time to make sure we are making changes we can live with. Patience is needed by everyone directing this process.