On Sept. 24, police were called to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations’ office in Saskatoon during the start of their executive election cycle. To chiefs and youth representatives, the event highlighted the increasing focus of the FSIN on internal politics over collaborative governance.
Shortly before noon on Sept. 23, FSIN First Vice-Chief Kim Jonathan announced via email that she would not be up for re-election in the upcoming election period, stating her intention to assume the role of interim chief.
To sustain her claim, she cited a section of the FSIN Executive Act that states that the first vice-chief is to take the position of interim chief whenever the position of chief becomes vacant, until the position is filled. FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron had resigned earlier the same day, according to the federation’s protocol for members of the executive seeking re-election.
The controversy started when FSIN Executive Operating Officer Dawn Walker responded to Jonathan’s email expressing the decision to place Fourth Vice-Chief Heather Bear as interim chief, citing a different section of the Executive Act that states that duties of an executive member are to be given to another member whose position is not open for election. Jonathan’s position is open for election this period — Bear’s is not.
Pasqua First Nation Chief Matthew Peigan and Sakimay First Nation Chief Lynn Acoose supported Jonathan’s claim in separate interviews with the StarPhoenix on Sept. 25, according to law and precedent. Peigan believes the federation’s actions are a product of internal conflict within the executive.
“I believe it’s consumed with internal politics and trying to satisfy the internal goings-on rather than focusing on the bigger issues,” Peigan said in the StarPhoenix interview.
Peigan further suggests that the federation has become “ineffective in terms of focusing on the real needs of our communities.”
In addition, Acoose questions the federation’s effectiveness in promoting self-governance.
“We say that we believe in our own traditional laws and our own system of values as Indigenous people — and I think we’ve strayed so far from that,” Acoose said in the StarPhoenix interview.
Not long after Heather Bear was appointed interim chief, police were reportedly called to the FSIN office to remove Jonathan, who stayed in the office. A spokeswoman for the Saskatoon police stated that no charges were laid and that the officers were called to “keep the peace in an internal dispute.”
Following word of Saskatoon police mediation, two FSIN youth representatives, Darian Lonechild, fourth-year Indigenous studies student, and Rollin Baldhead, fourth-year Indian Teacher Education Program student, released an open letter to the federation on Sept. 26 expressing their concern.
Lonechild and Baldhead state in the letter that there is a need for inclusivity and collaboration within the FSIN in order to assert their self-governance in the face of hostile legislation.
“[It] must be inclusive of elders, youth, Chiefs, community members and leaders to come together to enforce our nationhood despite the impending implementation of the Recognition of Rights Legal Framework the Canadian government has introduced to determine our rights as Indigenous peoples,” the letter said. “We must ensure our leaders work together, no matter the indifference, for the sake of our youth and for future generations.”
After an emergency meeting held on Sept. 25, the FSIN removed Bear from the interim chief position, choosing to leave it empty. Dawn Walker is operating as the top administrative staff member until Oct. 25, when a new chief will be elected. The candidates for the position are Bobby Cameron and Thunderchild First Nation Chief Delbert Wapass.
Ana Cristina Camacho / Staff Writer
Photo: David Hartman