Pikwakanagan candidates share vision for community

Pikwakanagan – With the election for a new council and chief coming up on March 25, an election platform meeting was held recently for community members to hear from the candidates.

A variety of issues rose to the forefront and were mentioned by many of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation (AOPFN) candidates including: the Grandmother’s lawsuit and candidate involvement; addiction issues; the land claim; the purchase of two parcels of land by the band; ZOOM meetings, a possible moccasin factory and plans for the future.

Each candidate had 20 minutes, which was up to them on how they used the time. They could speak and deliver their platform for the entire time or allow time for questions.

In the past weeks, the Leader featured the three candidates running for chief: incumbent Chief Wendy-Anne Jocko, who is completing her first term; former chief Greg Sarazin and long-time council member Jim Meness as well as several of the candidates for council. This week the Leader continues featuring the remaining candidates for council at the meeting.

Running for council are: Angelina Commanda (incumbent); Barbara Sarazin (incumbent); Catherine Bernard; Dale Benoit; Don Bilodeau; Justine Belaire; Karen Whalen; Loretta – Budgie – Nadeau; Mervin Sarazin (incumbent); Natalie Commanda; Shelley Belaire; Sherry Kohoko; Steve Benoit (incumbent) and Vicky Two-Axe.

Sherry Kohoko

No stranger to the council table, Sherry Kohoko was on council for 11 years, although she is not a current councillor. She noted she also has experience working in the negotiating department, where she began work in 1991.

“It’s kind of sad to hear our negotiations are still at the same spot with the same problems,” she said.

There are many issues which need to be addressed in the community which affect residents, including drugs and addictions, she said.

“A lot of our people are addicted to something or other based on the past,” she said.

Having a treatment centre locally is an important aspect of recovery, she believes.

“The biggest issue with addiction is they don’t want to leave,” she said.

Aboriginal healing is sweeping across Canada, as is Aboriginal medicine and this can be incorporated locally, she believes.

There is an awareness of First Nations people like never before, Ms. Kohoko noted.

“Truth and reconciliation has brought us, Aboriginal people, into the limelight,” she said.

The community should be able to have its own radio station where the Algonquin language could be heard every day, she said.

When it was time for questions, she was asked how she would define the word team.

“I’m well aware being on council doesn’t mean everyone agrees, but you uphold the decision,” she said.

There is room for discussion, she noted.

“You are never going to get full agreement,” she added.

When questioned where the money would come from for a rehab centre located at Pikwakanagan, she said there are Truth and Reconciliation dollars available.

“It’s funding which should be put forward for the betterment of our people,” she said.

One individual asking questions suggested having a toll on the bridge leading into Pikwakanagan. They also asked what happened to the Casino Rama money. Ms. Kohoko said funds from Casino Rama have to be used for specific purposes which include: health, education, culture and community.

The candidate was asked about education supports for students with high academic standing. Ms. Kohoko said it is also important to look at the challenges of putting someone in education for the trades. She pointed out while the course is paid for, the living expenses must be paid for by the individual and this is not right. It makes it too expensive for many, she said.

“Education needs to step up to ensure success,” she said.

Like other candidates, she was asked if she was part of the Grandmothers group which is engaged in a lawsuit against the AOPFN. Ms. Kohoko said she is unaware of who are in the Grandmothers group or what they represent.

“If there are concerns from a group, it is council’s responsibility to hear them out,” she added.

She was also asked about succession planning. She noted wages are stopping people from applying for jobs. Youth need to be encouraged to pursue a career in a field they naturally gravitate to.

“We also have to introduce them to places like the manor or the daycare,” she said.

Loretta (Budgie) Nadeau

Loretta “Budgie” Nadeau was not present but did provide a short video which was shown during the proceedings. She noted while she is listed as Loretta, the community knowns her as Budgie.

“Chief and council take direction from the people,” she said. “Not the other way around.”

If elected to council she promised to be open and honest.

“Stand up for what we believe,” she said.

Ms. Nadeau urged her fellow community members to vote wisely in the upcoming election.

“Don’t vote for someone because they are a family member or friend,” she said. “Vote for someone who can work for us.”

Chief and council should be supporting each other, she noted.

“Let’s make the community strong again,” she concluded.

Barbara Sarazin

Incumbent Councillor Barbara Sarazin said being on council the last three years has been very trying and challenging.

“I had the same grumblings as a community member,” she said, adding she stood behind chief and council and gave them respect.

“Yes, I was a protestor,” she said. “I can still be a protestor.”

As a member of the community, she will stand up and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, she promised.

“I have not stopped for one moment carrying the voices of AOPFN,” she said. “I have not wavered. Sometimes it is hurtful when I hear council has wavered.”

If elected she promised to lead and initiate new opportunities for today and in the future.

“Our Algonquin values are our greatest strengths,” she said. “It is through our values we will rewrite government policy that meant a loss in culture.”

The community is separating daily by not supporting each other, she said.

“No AOO (Algonquins of Ontario); we will not bend down to and say we will be reporting to them,” she said.

“We have never stopped having faith in the Algonquins of Quebec,” she added.

Coun. Sarazin said she has worked with council colleagues on the archeological school and urban reserve in Ottawa.

“That is going to be under our control,” she said. “It is for us. It is for our children there going to school. It is for Algonquins living in poverty.”

Coun. Sarazin addressed the purchase of two parcels of property, saying it was done for the future and so the community has more land.

“We would not have done that if there was no mandate,” she said.

If re-elected she promised to continue to support the health and mental health team, stating there needs to be a detox centre.

“We have a huge drug problem in our community,” she said.

When the community is pulling apart, they can’t work together, however, she said.

“We are taking control of our most precious resources, something we were not able to do in the past,” she said.

The councillor said she continues to work for the community.

“I have not voted on anything at the AOO to go against you,” she said.

“Yes, the AIP happened and yes, I protested,” she acknowledged.

“When I was placed on council, I worked along with them,” she said.

Coun. Sarazin promised she would never take away hunting rights and promised the community would govern itself through self government.

Merv Sarazin

Fellow incumbent Councillor Merv Sarazin spoke about his family and his background in the community, recalling his days as a child going to school.

“We were part of the federal school system,” he said.

His roots in the community are deep, he noted, and he enjoys being part of the community.

“I know community that way,” he said. “My dad, Daniel Sarazin, was a master canoe builder.”

They are trying to repatriate his work, he remarked.

His father built so many canoes but they are all gone.

“Eighty canoes,” he said. “We never got to keep any of them.”

While his father built traditional canoes, they did not use them.

“We had a wooden boat to go across the lake,” he recalled.

His father was also a chief in the 1950s.

Coun. Sarazin reflected on his campaign promises, saying it is a difficult way to measure success.

“We did complete a strategic plan for housing,” he said.

“When you look around, people can access funding to build a beautiful house.”

The communal water supply issue is ongoing and that will be happening, he said.

“When I left public works, we got a commitment to build a water plant,” he noted.

Council has worked hard at establishing themselves to get government money for the betterment of the community, he said.

Coun. Sarazin said he takes the oath of office very seriously and brought the oath along. He noted he worked for the AOPFN in public works for 32 years before being elected to office.

“I think I live up to the oath of office and Code of Conduct,” he said. “I look at them almost every day. You have to live like that.”

Coun. Sarazin said he is pleased to see the archaeological school is thriving and has an Algonquin name. Now there are thousands of artefacts at the National Capital Commission (NCC), he added.

During his time on council he said he was an alternate on the language and culture portfolio. One of the initiatives is to repatriate the Matt Bernard canoe, he added. Fixing the museum will be a first step in this and the new partnership which is being planned with M Sullivan and Sons of Arnprior will be a big part of that.

“Sullivans really made the difference,” he said.

Coun. Sarazin said he is also looking forward to training for canoe builders in the community.

Karen Whalen

Local businessperson Karen Whelan is running for council, noting she has been a business owner in the community for 20 years. She also worked at CNL and in the band administration.

“We need a recovery and rehab centre,” she said. “We do have a very serious problem here.”

The Ontario government has a program worth $90 million in funding and the Jordan’s Principle could also be another funding source, she said.

“We can’t leave these people high and dry,” she said.

“I’d like to see a support group for parents dealing with addicted youth and children,” she added.

Casino Rama funding is also a possibility for the museum, she pointed out. As well, the community could partner with bus companies to bring people to the museum, she said.

“We could earn $1,500 per bus,” she said. “We could have a gift shop showcasing local artists.”

There are many opportunities for local artists in economic development, she said. Ms. Whalen brought along some Indigenous art she sells at her gift shop as examples of what can be done.

As well, a moccasin factory would be something the community could look into.

“It would be ideal if our First Nation could have that,” she said, noting there could be a factory outlet in the community.

In the future if lockdowns are proposed, she would like to see the business community consulted. She said it is also important to look at tax exemption rights, pointing out if the Indian Act changes this needs to be looked at.

“I’d like to see more community meetings and input,” she said.

During question time, she was asked if she believes businesses should have to pay a business fee which would go back to the community. Ms. Whelan said there would have to be the right committee and work with businesses to have them licensed.

“I think the fee could be negotiated,” she said.

An example could be a fee for garbage pickup, she suggested.

“I would not mind having businesses contribute to education scholarships,” she added.

When asked about the 40-year-old fire hall falling down, she said she heard there was a new location proposed. She also pointed out the moccasin factory could be started by the band and then sold.

“Government does not manage business well,” she said.

When asked about the treaty negotiations and the tax-free status, she said she supports the tax exemption status.

“Our self government agreement will be there forever,” she said.

Her final question alluded to the fact the election platform event was taking place in what was to be the boot factory at one time and is now a bingo hall. She was asked what would make a moccasin factory succeed when a boot factory failed.

“There is a demand for moccasins all over our culture,” she replied.

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader