EDITOR’S NOTE: The M’Chigeeng First Nation election is this Saturday, March 28. During every Island First Nation election, The Expositor interviews candidates running for chief. Candidate Linda Debassige was unable to provide comment by press deadline.
Standing for chief are incumbent Linda Debassige and Terry Jeffrey Debassige, whose interview follows below.
Standing for band councillor are Charles Beaudin, incumbent Jessie Charles Beaudin, Robert Beaudin, Brian Bisson, incumbent Dennis Corbiere, Jeanine H. Debassige, Martin (Relic) Debassige, Sam Debassige, Joe Hare, incumbent Thomas Hare, incumbent Daughness Migwans and incumbent Henry Panamick Sr.
Anishinaabe people are at a crossroads
Candidate for chief Terry Debassige has spent many years assisting band members in navigating the byzantine corridors of the Indian Act for band members seeking documentation; now he plans to use those skills and knowledge in order to help his community navigate the dangerous waters ahead.
“I have been asked to run for many years,” he said during a telephone interview with The Expositor. “It is not an easy job.”
Mr. Debassige pointed out that “as Anishinaabe people we are at a critical juncture in our treaty relationship with Canada. The way things are currently set up, we are about to lose everything.”
He noted that there are many misconceptions about that relationship prevalent in mainstream society and media. “I just heard a TVO program where a person from the legal department of the Government of Canada was talking about us, he said that native people are a conquered people,” he said. “If people know their history, they know that Canada itself does not hold valid international title to the land. That’s the elephant in the room. Canada is working on asserted title.”
Essentially, he said, Canadian title in Canadian law “exists because they say so—it’s the Doctrine of Discovery.”
Mr. Debassige said that the current path being taken by the Union of Ontario Indians, the Anishinaabe Governance Act, “places everything under Canadian legislation. It becomes totally within the realm—but our treaty relationship is still in place. We have underlying title to the land.”
Through the staunch assertion of the aboriginal title, Mr. Debassige said that “we could open up enormous economic potential for our people.”
“There have been three community referendums regarding community priorities,” he continued. “Language has been number one each time. I want to put more resources into saving the Ojibwa language—not only for identity and self image but it is not well known that our teachings, our constitution, our connection to creation is built into the language. This has major implications in terms of our governance, our codes, even the protection of our rights and title to land.”
Mr. Debassige noted that the Anishinaabe have always been entrepreneurial in spirit and in fact. “Opening avenues would be explored to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit that lies within our people,” he said. “There is a lot of dysfunction in our communities, drugs and alcohol, but no community has ever come up with a final solution to those issues.”
The trajectory can be changed, he suggested; “there has to be programming for success. We have to change that road. I put my money behind a person that has all the energy to realize his dreams. If you have it in you, nothing will stop you.”
Mr. Debassige noted that in difficult times past, “the Anishinaabe people didn’t leave anyone behind.”