By Nick Stewart
Anishinaabe sovereignty is gifted by the Creator, and that gift includes what are identified today as inherent and treaty rights – a gift the Wahnapitae First Nation (WFN) seeks to honor as it continues its journey. towards self-government.
As one of the first communities to join the Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement at the beginning of 2020, WFN worked hard to move away from the oppression and colonialism of the Indian Act. After conducting pre-implementation activities from November 2020 to June 2021, WFN is now in a transition phase and preparing to begin extensive community consultation for implementation in 2022 and beyond – and in doing so , learning the many ways he can better empower members of his community.
While there are many direct benefits to implementing the governance agreement within the community, this work is a long-term effort that must be rooted in broad consultation and the will of community members. Waiting for; however, WFN’s journey to prepare for this transition has already revealed a number of unexpected benefits for the community:
Preservation of historical knowledge
To better understand how to proceed with the opportunities offered to WFN under the governance agreement, it was important that the project team and community members were able to understand where the community really was and where it stood. now find. Only with this knowledge can planning for the future truly honor the past.
This work took place in the pre-implementation phase, when the project team undertook extensive discussions with Chief and Council (past and present), elders, community members, experts administrative and among themselves. In addition, the team carried out a complete inventory and analysis of all applicable regulations and policies; these were then mapped against the governance areas of the governance agreement, as well as the historical context of WFN.
Ultimately, this described how WFN got to the current stage of its journey and helped ensure that the full story of WFN can continue to be told through today’s youth and for generations. future.
It also set the stage for comparing the current and historical realities of the administration and the community with any information that the legal and technical analysis of the governance agreement would provide.
Identification of opportunities for self-governance
While the governance agreement outlines countless new opportunities for signatory communities to more freely exercise their inherent right of self-government, it also presents itself as a dense web of legal and technical issues.
As such, a key element of pre-implementation was to engage experts in this field to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the governance arrangement: to move forward, the community needed to have a quick overview of what it can or cannot do, legally speaking, when reviewing its own implementation of the governance agreement. In addition, this analysis included a breakdown of best practices from other self-governing First Nations.
With this information in hand, WFN now has a better understanding of the practical impact of the governance agreement. This created a shared conversation and exploration on how to meet the requirements of the governance agreement while opening up new opportunities and new ways of thinking about how best to structure transparency and accountability within the administration.
Community Driven Technology Implementation
COVID-19 has led to many complications in the pre-implementation of the governance agreement, including the ability to engage directly face-to-face with members – a major issue, given the key role of feedback members in this work.
To solve the problem, the project team turned to technology when physical solutions were not available. For example, this included the implementation of mass email technology, which enabled the team to be able to reach all community members quickly and discreetly, regardless of location, and in a way that meets their particular preferences and needs.
Along with virtual polling functionality and video conferencing, this not only allowed for more secure engagement with reserve members; it has also resulted in new, invigorated relationships with off-reserve members. These particular enhancements will extend well beyond the life of the project, meeting all of the administration’s communication needs in the future and in true long-term capacity.
Community engagement and community champions
The governance agreement is a complex agreement with many ramifications, technical details and opportunities. As such, it was crucial for WFN to connect and consult with members in a way that creates a two-way sharing of knowledge on these many different aspects.
Based on the results of extensive outreach to members both on and off reserve, the project team was able to convene eight separate focus groups, one for each of the project areas under the governance.
Several months of extensive consultation with participants – through surveys, engagement sessions and conversations – created an open and honest space for basic technical analysis by community members, rooted in legal assessments and community history. This led to a truly collaborative development of project understanding; it also provided an opportunity to deepen those discussions and seriously consider the practical implications of the governance agreement in the community.
As the project progresses and the collective understanding grows around the governance agreement and its implications, those involved in this initiative as early participants and organizers have gradually become true community champions. This allows them to serve as ambassadors for this work within the community, creating space for genuine excitement and enthusiasm now and in the many years that will follow in the implementation.
Preparing for the Future of Autonomy
With pre-implementation work now complete, WFN is now almost ready to take the next step on its journey to self-sufficiency. Transition planning is now underway in preparation for the implementation of the Governance Agreement – a process of extensive community engagement, discussion and legislative development that will span many years. Fortunately, the shared knowledge and understanding needed to do this is now available, rooted in a community perspective and in the spirit of the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers.
As the community continues on this important journey, WFN looks forward to working with other First Nations of the Anishinabek Nation to honor the gifts of the Creator together and make our shared self-reliance a reality.