By Peter Globensky
The First Nations community of Netamisakomik (Pic Mobert) celebrated its 31st annual pow-wow during the August long-weekend. And there was much to celebrate! Held on the pow-wow grounds of what has always been their traditional territory, the community was finally able to acquire legal recognition of these sacred grounds from the federal and provincial governments. The pow-wow grounds and surrounding lands were formally transferred to the community in an agreement which formally expanded their land base by 16 square miles. An outstanding land claim reaching back over forty years is still in negotiation.
The community also celebrated the election of a new Chief and Council, the first under their revised election laws which extended the term of Chief and Council to four years from the previously mandated two years under the Indian Act. Chief Johanna Desmoulin returns to Council as Chief after a two year hiatus. She had previously served two consecutive terms in that position and along with her predecessor, Wayne Sabourin, brought much needed social and economic development to the community. This has included a multi-faceted economic development corporation which has diversified into forest products, construction, and a run-of-the-river hydro electric development, all of which has generated significant income for this community located in the heart of the Canadian Shield. In addition to planning commercial developments in the area of their expanded land base some of which is adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway, the community has established interests in the expansion of the east-west hydro transmission line and a number of mining interests which have developed within the community’s traditional territory. But as always with negotiations with other levels of governments, patience and persistence are essential. “I was delighted to see that our community was almost unanimous in approving our proposal to acquire our larger land base. But that land transfer agreement was started three years ago and governments are still dragging their feet, “ said Chief Johanna.
When asked about her priorities for the next four years Chief Johanna summarized some of the economic accomplishments that have benefited the community “I do want to focus on continuing our economic growth but I also want to strongly emphasize our need to address health and wellness in the community.” Chief Johanna further stated, “There are many legacy and intergenerational social issues that members suffer from and it is essential that we address these for our whole community to move forward.”
Others members of the 2017 Netamisakomik Council include Vern McWatch, Jeff Desmoulin, Louis Kwissiwa, Hannah Desmoulin, Jessica McWatch, Thurston Kwissiwa, Clyde Jacobs, Christopher Bananish and Theresa Bananish.
Beverly Sabourin, also a member of Netamisakomik First Nation and recently retired as the Vice-Provost of Aboriginal Initiatives at Lakehead University has previously worked with the community to assist them in developing a land code. She expressed pride in the accomplishments of her homeland community. “That they are educating and graduating more and more of their young people who understand the history of Indigenous rights and challenges is very important,” noted Sabourin. “That these young graduates are willing to help advance their community and deal with its challenges is encouraging. Education is critical to the future of Indigenous communities in Canada.”
From all accounts it appears the heartbeat of this First Nations community is loud and strong.