A protest march is set to be held on Magnetawan First Nation north of Parry Sound Thursday morning by residents who are upset that the election for chief and council has been delayed for six months due to COVID-19.
In a letter, protest spokesperson Lloyd Noganosh stated that the protest is being staged against the chief and council for passing a Band Council Resolution that postpones the territory’s regular leadership elections on April 26, 2021 to at least Oct. 23, 2021.
“The chief and council are using a blanket provision provided by Indigenous Services Canada which should only be utilized ‘if the extension is necessary to prevent, mitigate or control the spread of diseases on the reserve,’ which in this case they are referring to COVID-19,” Noganosh said in his letter.
“However, the members of Magnetawan First Nation adamantly state that it is not necessary to postpone our elections as there are no active cases of COVID-19 nor is there a pandemic existing on our First Nation.”
Magnetawan First Nation was voluntarily locked down last December after nine residents on the territory contracted the coronavirus — a stunning number for a community of only about 110 residents. Those nine people all self-isolated and have since recovered.
In an interview last week, Chief William Diabo said he and the two councillors were in agreement that the safest course of action was to delay the election. He insisted it was not a power grab and that he was doing it with the health, safety and best interests of his members in mind. The chief said the high rate of infection on the territory less than two months ago and concerns over future COVID spread were the motivating factors in pushing the election.
But Noganosh made it clear in his letter, he’s simply not buying that explanation.
“The members know that this leadership is only utilizing this provision to further extend their tenure in office for at least another six months and possibly longer,” he stated. “All of our staff that work out of our administration and health centre are back working using safety protocols, our Tim Hortons and Esso Station is open to the public … therefore, it is not necessary to postpone our leadership elections and voting process.”
Another Magnetawan First Nation resident and Lloyd's brother, Willard Noganosh, said that there are two other issues at play in this dispute.
“One is that the chief claims he has approval to delay the election from Indigenous Services Canada. We’d like to see a letter from Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller confirming that,” Noganosh said.
The other problem, according to Noganosh, is that the chief and one of the two band councillors do not live on the territory full time. He said the chief maintains a residence in Toronto while Coun. Rose Cardinal lives at least part time in Barrie.
“We would be better served if our chief and our councillors lived on our territory regularly,” he said.
The protest march is scheduled for this Thursday morning, Feb. 25, beginning at 10:30 a.m. at the end of the First Nation’s main road and will end at the administration building where the chief and council work.
Demonstrators are expected to wear masks and stay at least two metres away from other protesters.
John McFadden is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Indigenous issues for MuskokaRegion.com, ParrySound.com and Simcoe.com. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.
John McFadden, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Orillia Today