Five communities within the Anishinabek Nation in Ontario have signed a historic agreement with the federal government that will move them into self-governance.


Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation Reg Niganobe told CTV’s Your Morning it is the first self-government agreement of its kind in Ontario and marks an important step away from the Indian Act towards reconciliation.


“It’s incredibly important. It’s a movement towards some more independence, a little bit more self government,” Niganobe said Thursday. “[We’re] finally in control of what happens on the First Nations and it’s an exciting time.”


Signed last week and achieved following more than 20 years of negotiation, the agreement will recognize Anishinabek control over governance of the law-making powers of the signatory First Nations in key areas.


Niganobe explained this means the First Nations will make their own decisions about how their elections will be held and how their governments will operate, as well as citizenship and how best to protect and promote Anishinaabe language and culture.


Once federal legislation is passed to bring the agreement into effect, the parts of the Indian Act that deal with governance will no longer apply to the signatory Anishinabek First Nations.


“With this new governance agreement, these First Nations can now determine how they would like to select their leadership and set their own parameters to that whether it be custom election codes or whatever else they might prefer to do,” Niganobe said.


Niganobe said the First Nations will choose how they operate, whether through a traditional government system, clan system governance, or even older styles of governance that were in place prior to Europeans’ arrival in Canada. Prior to the agreement, Niganobe said the federal government “controlled every aspect” of First Nation governance, dictating what operating and management is put in place.


“There’s finally a release of the control from the federal government and giving it to the First Nations,” he said.


Five communities within the Anishinabek Nation in Ontario have signed the agreement, including Moose Deer Point, Wahnapitae, Nipissing, Magnetawan and Zhiibaahaasing First Nations.


Self-government negotiations between the federal government and the Anishinabek Nation began in 1995, and led to an agreement-in-principle in 2007. The negotiations concluded in 2019 and over the past two years, the agreement was approved by the citizens of each signatory First Nation through a community vote.


“It’s absolutely rewarding to the communities that have reached this point,” Niganobe said.


As they work to pass their own Anishinabek laws to create and run their new governance system, the federal government says it will increase funding to the First Nations to carry out their new responsibilities and “invest in community priorities for a better future.”


In a press release announcing the signing of the self-governance agreement, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller said the agreement will help “revitalize traditional Anishinaabe governance” and renew nation-to-nation relations.


“We look forward to continuing to work together with Anishinabek partners on all our shared priorities, to implement their inherent right to self-determination and support their inspiring visions of a better future for their citizens,” Miller said.


While only five communities have joined the agreement, any of Anishinabek’s 34 other First Nations could decide to sign on in the future.


Niganobe said he is hopeful more will join once they witness the successful self-governance of these communities.


“It’s a brand new agreement. There’s always some hesitancy to see what it looks like, see how it turns out, see how smoothly everything operates… So this will give [others] the opportunity of course to see how that unfolds and I’m sure more will join on as we move forward,” he said.



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