It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since our Chiefs made a decision to form a group of nine First Nations that would become Matawa First Nations Management. At first it was just meant to meet DIAND’s (AANDC) criteria under the Tribal Council Funding Policy. Matawa was meant to provide the five basic advisory services. I don’t think the Chiefs foresaw that this organization would grow into the political powerhouse it has become in Ontario, and take the lead on political issues within the Treaty No. Nine First Nations. But the Matawa Chiefs have always maintained close relationships since the early 1970s, during the First Nation’s revolutionary days which saw the creation of regional and national organizations that would evolve to become Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), Chiefs of Ontario (COO) and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). Back in those days leadership had more of a “devil may care” attitude when the party preceded working with the issues amongst themselves. Those were the days of the beagle boys, when issues were resolved by a fight between the governments and the “Indians,” as First Nations were referred to at that time.
Since then First Nations leadership has become more sophisticated and educated. They have learned to fight their battles in boardrooms and, when necessary, in courts. They have amassed experts from their own communities rather than rely on outside consultants who, in the earlier days, often took advantage of First Nations, overcharging with little accountability and work production.
I am glad I grew up from a teenager to this era of Nations reborn out of anger from surviving residential schools, and lucky enough to escape the clutches of the government’s children aid societies. It was that, and the need to survive, that gave our fathers and grandfathers the strength and the drive to make a better future for their children and grandchildren. I grew up in that era and that is what has made me who I am today, a very determined Anishinabaie who never wants to see those dark days for my own children and grandchildren. Our people should never have to live under that kind of genocide and apartheid policies of governments again. We are emerging from the darkness into the light.
Today I look back at what we as First Nations and the Peoples of the Land have accomplished. We have come a long way since the barroom days of the seventies. We have regained our pride as First Nations Peoples of the Land. Many of our people are now completing their post-secondary education. We know what we want for our future is to be self-sufficient and independent on our own lands and territories. This was the vision of our Chiefs and Councils in 1988 when they created Matawa First Nations Management. I believe we will achieve that goal, perhaps not for my generation, but my children’s and grandchildren’s generation will live that dream for our Nations.
With that I encourage all of our Chiefs and Councils to continue to fight for that vision for our Peoples. I encourage our Peoples of the Land to continue to assert your rights and freedoms as the First Peoples of the Land. Do not be afraid to stand up for your rights. Do not be afraid to tell your leadership to continue our struggles for a better tomorrow so that our children and grandchildren will someday have a high standard of living. Continue the fight for our dream of healthy and prosperous communities, with good and reliable infrastructure. We have never lived on “handouts”. What governments and others consider handouts were monies extracted from our First Nations lands and resources. One day we will no longer receive those subsistence level monies for our survival. We will have what is rightfully ours; a full and fair share of all the benefits and revenues that will come from our resources. We will create our own wealth and future. I always remember the words of one of our ancestors (Moonias) during the James Bay Treaty Number Nine signing:
He said, “…that ever since he was able to earn anything, and that was from the time he was very young, he had never been given something for nothing; that he always had to pay for everything that he got, even if it was only a paper of pins.” Now, he said “you gentlemen come to us from the King offering to give us benefits for which we can make no return…”
He knew what was being promised was too good to be true, and he was right.
I believe we will one day tell the government again that we will govern ourselves and we will sustain our own communities with revenues from our own lands, and in addition, from the entitlements of full enforcement of benefits from our Treaties.
I want to thank everyone who has made a contribution to our work at MFNM for the past 25 years, and also in the early days when we first began to get organized. A new era of changes is coming to our First Nations and to Matawa First Nation Management. We will have new challenges, but also new opportunities. Our Managers and Staff will keep working to serve our communities with maximum effort.
David Paul Achneepineskum,
CEO, Matawa First Nation Management