Custom election a tangible step towards Self-Government

 Posted June 8, 2020

A dose of reality:  The history of Band Council governance is ripe with oppression, colonialism and trauma for all First Nations across Canada.  Since the introduction of the Indian Act in 1876, the goal of the Band governance provisions of the Indian Act was to stamp out traditional systems of governance in order to colonize and control First Nations.  Such has been the way through many revisions of the election and governance provisions of the Indian Act – all done in their way! 
But beginning with the spirited opposition and ultimate rejection of the infamous 1969 White Paper, to the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, First Nations have begun to re-assert our right to self-determination.  This was a victory carried out by our leaders like Gary Potts back in the Constitutional talks and became recognized and affirmed in s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. 

“We are Nations. We have always been Nations. As Nations, we have inherent rights we have never given up. We have the right to our own forms of government. We have the right to self-determination.”

Anishinabek Nation Declaration (1980) 

It was this fierce advocacy from First Nations during these times that drew attention to the emerging concept of self-government.  Self-government may be a relatively new term but it’s certainly not a new concept.  Anishinawbek have governed ourselves since time immemorial long before the establishment of the Indian Act. 
In 1988, the Indian Act enabled provisions for First Nations to create their own Band Custom Election codes.  Since then, approximately half of all First Nations in Canada have taken up the task of creating, ratifying and implementing their own election codes. 
So Atikameksheng is not alone.  This has been done (and done successfully) in many other communities across Canada including many of our neighbours and kinfolk across Robinson Huron treaty territory. 
Is it perfect?  No.  Band governance, as a whole, continues to be imposed on our people under the Indian Act.  The Band custom election process still requires us to meet certain standards imposed by colonial oppressors. Much of this is not according to our true customs as Anishinawbe people.  Historically, we governed ourselves by using the Clan System, which recognizes familial representation and clan responsibilities.  Anishinawbe governance also included a broader confederacy and associated Council Fires. 
Despite this, it is certainly a monumental and historic step forward to establish the Gimaakeng Naaknigewin, our own custom election code.  This was written by, ratified and established by Atikameksheg Anishnawbek.  To recognize our election code under our own authority of the Atikameksheng G‘Chi-Naaknigewin, our constitution and highest law of our people, is also empowering.  These are tangible instruments of self-government.  As a community and as a nation, we are moving beyond the confines of colonialism and the Indian Act to using our own self-government processes. 
Now that we have our own constitution and election code, we can choose to take further steps towards self-determination and our own forms of government.  That’s the choice we have as Atikameksheng citizens.  



Use hashtag #OurElectionOurWay

“This is our moment”: Gimaa

Posted June 1, 2020

By Gimaa Val Richer

I was speaking to Chief Pamajewon not too long ago who remembered the day they kicked the Indian Agent out of their band meeting. I was fascinated by this recounting of history in his community and I saw the look of pride he had when sharing this truly historic event with me. I thought this was a bold and powerful move to assert their Nation’s sovereignty and was fascinated to hear this from someone who was there.  

I was thinking back to this story because I feel like this is our moment. This is our moment that we kicked the Indian Act out of our band elections and this makes me proud. We have been talking about doing this for years. This is truly a historic event for us and I encourage you to remember this moment and make sure our young ones remember this too. Perhaps on election day, we should take pictures of all our little ones, with the slogan “Atikameksheng doesn’t need the Indian Act” or something to that effect.  

“This is our moment that we kicked the Indian Act out of our Band elections.”


This wasn’t an easy path for us. Afterall, there had to be some reason why we didn’t vote on this back in 2015 though we had a finished document or why we didn’t do it even earlier than that. The simple answer is that we weren’t ready. However, I felt the strong push from our community to ensure this happened. There was barely a community event held where someone didn’t bring this up and told us that we needed to finish this work. And then when it did happen, we oddly also felt some push back.  

And externally, we also faced challenges because the Minister’s inaction almost led to a delay for us. There was a moment, and maybe more than one, where we had to decide whether to carry on under the Indian Act (because of the Minister’s delay) or to go ahead and follow our own law. We decided NOT to act like an Indian Act Chief and Council, and take direction from you rather than let the Minister’s delay interfere. We kicked the Indian Act out of our elections. This exercise was a clear example to us of the bureaucracy and paternalism that still exists and the exact reason why we need to get away from the Indian Act and assert our own authority. We should never let the Minister or ISC delay us. We should proceed at our own speed and according to our own laws and ISC can continue to play catch-up. We have been delayed by them long enough and we have the authority to run our own vote, our own way. 

We don’t celebrate our successes enough and I think it is time we start. I want to congratulate all of you, and all of us for making this happen. I am so proud of you Atikameksheng and I am so proud to say that I was the last Indian Act Chief in Atikameksheng!  

I am looking forward to the next four years under our own Gimakeeng Naaknigewin and I can’t wait to see what step we take next!  




Use hashtag #OurElectionOurWay

A final Minister’s approval?

Posted June 1, 2020

During the course of the development of Atikameksheng Anishinaabek election code, AAFN officials have had to overcome a number of challenges and barriers.  Most of those challenges were directly related to the imposition of the Crown over our Atikameksheng affairs.  

With the ratification of the community election code, Gimaakeng Naaknigewin, in January 2020, the community has spoken!  Our First Nation has been directed to implement the code voted upon by our members.  With the successful ratification, Atikameksheng has taken historic and substantial step towards self-determination.  We are now going to select our own leaders – our way! 

Yet, we still needed one more approval.  The signature of the Ministers of Crown-Indigenous Relations.  Yet again, even following the election code ratification, we encounter the imposition of the Crown. 

Since that time, knowing full well that an election was on the horizon, the Minister sat on our approval. 

Then after a few weeks, with a lot of follow-up and encouragement from our Chief and Council, still nothing. 

Then COVID-19 hit. 

With the ratification of the community election code, the community has spoken!

We certainly recognize that there are far more important priorities for Canada during a pandemic crisis.  The federal government was dealing with life and death.  Public health measures to curb the spread of coronavirus was the only business of the federal government during March and April.  Then they had to address the economic reality, now a recession.  People were losing their jobs and businesses were having to close. 

All the while, Atikameksheng waited and waited for the “approval” of our Election Code. 

That is the reality of colonialism.  By being subservient to the Crown, we are always waiting for their validation and approval.  That is the very nature of the Indian Act.  Band Councils serve under the jurisdiction of the Indian Act and the Minister.  That is not right. 

Atikameksheng has passed our supreme law: our Gi’Chi-Naaknigewin. 

Atikameksheng has passed our way of selecting our leaders: Gimaakeng Naaknigewin

Atikameksheng citizens have spoken and we are taking a rightful step towards self-determination and establishing our own processes under our own jurisdiction. 

Today, our Chief and Council and First Nations staff and officials endeavour to serve under our own Atikameksheng jurisdiction.  We must take steps to change our way of thinking and way of life. 

The Minister did finally give his approval and signed off on the Gimaakeng Naaknigewin.  It is now in-force, just in time for the upcoming election. 

Think about it this way…  perhaps this is one of the final approvals we will ever need from the Minister.  Our ancestors never needed to ask permission to govern themselves and manage their own affairs.  Why should we? 

If we are committed to self-determination, to the selection of our own leaders in our way, and empowering processes under our own jurisdiction – we choose to move forward. 

We choose to move forward, in our way. 

That’s what this election is all about. 



Use hashtag #OurElectionOurWay

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