Washaw Sibi met with Members of Parliament and the new Grand Chief recently to clarify their issues and demands and push for a solid separate identity.
“We want to resolve our long standing issues, and it’s certainly been a long time coming,” said Washaw Sibi councillor Kenneth Weistche.
He and his wife and fellow councillor Annie Trapper-Weistche met with 5 MPs on October 3rd to fill them in on their plight.
“They didn’t even know we were here,” said Weistche. “They thought the Pikogan reserve was Algonquin and that was it. We’ve been telling them otherwise,” said Weistche of the meetings they’ve been having with various MPs and other politicians over the last two years.
“We called Benoit Pelletier (the former Provincial Indian Affairs Minister) last summer and he hasn’t gotten back to us on what they plan to do to help our people,” fumed Weistche. “We want both governments to know that we have always been here and are not going anywhere so they should deal with us now.”
In attendance were MPs Serge Menard, Yvon Levesque, Marc Lemay and Bernard Cleary.
Both sides were looking to create an amicable dialogue and come up with a plan that they would then present to federal Indian Affairs Minister Andy Scott.
Cleary, for his part, is willing to facilitate the Treaty of Friendship’ between Pikogan and Washaw Sibi.
“We’re proposing a treaty of friendship to recognize each other’s traplines and work together on things like social issues,” said Weistche. “There will also be a list of who belongs to the Algonquin Nation and who belongs to the Cree Nation, instead of lumping us all together under one Nation.”
“The Cree people have been under the authority of the Algonquins, which is not right, so we want to create two separate lists,” he said.
In the 60’s, the Washaw Sibi were kicked around by both Ottawa and Quebec and forced to live with the Algonquins, something which has created deep scars within many of the 400 members.
Two years ago the Grand Council recognized the Washaw Sibi community as the tenth Cree community. Even though that helped their situation a bit, it’s been an uphill struggle since.
The MPs were receptive to the needs of the Washaw Sibi people, but Weistche fears it will take a little more than just demonstrating their plight and asking for help.
“We are going to be launching a lawsuit in the next few months to get compensation for our forced relocation.” Their hope is to get some sort of financial compensation from Ottawa and Quebec for being located within an Algonquin reserve and not their own Cree community.
He said that an amount has not been discussed as of yet, but he’s confident that they will come to the Washaw Sibi people with an offer rather than drag it out in the courts.
Weistche also talked about the new community at an old campground near Matagami. “People are winterizing their cabins and they want to stay there permanently,” he said. “We’re hoping that a sewage and water system will be in place in the next little while.”
“We updated the new Grand Chief of our position and where we’re at at this point in time,” Weistche said of their meeting on September 30th with newly elected Grand Chief Matthew Mukash. “He was very receptive to our needs and we made sure he knew where we stood.”
“Our struggle continues and the longer we wait for the government to do something, the harder it’s going to be.”