Shawanaga and Nipissing First Nations to hold band elections despite COVID

·3 min read

The Chief of the Shawanaga First Nation, north of Parry Sound, said that band elections on his territory will take place as scheduled in May, despite the COVID-19 global pandemic. Chief Wayne Pamajewon also said that he intends to take another run for chief. He became the chief of the territory in 2012 and is coming to the end of his second four-year term. Five band councillor positions will also be up for grabs in the election.

There has been a huge outcry on the nearby Magnetawan First Nation, where the chief and council have decided to postpone their band elections for six months. It was to have been held next month but is now delayed until October, due to the pandemic. The relatively small community had to deal with nine COVID-19 cases late last year and early this year. The nine people represented almost 10 per cent of the territory’s residents. All of those who tested positive have since recovered.

The delay in the election boiled over in late February when a couple dozen community members protested the postponement in a demonstration that ended at the band’s administrative offices. It culminated with the firing of one of the protesters by the band itself, which argued he could not hold a band position and protest the chief and council’s decision while he was supposed to be working on band time.

Shawanaga has not had any positive COVID-19 cases on the First Nation. A student in the community was diagnosed with the virus back in December, but that youngster did not live on the territory. Staff and students at the school were tested, and there was no community spread. The student has since recovered.

“I have no reason to delay our election,” Chief Pamajewon said. "I think there are ways and means to hold the election safely. We don’t do mail-in ballots. If you want to vote for chief and council, you have to come to the community. That’s how it is going to proceed. Make it here and cast your ballot.”

The chief said the vote will be held at the administration office, but all COVID-19 safety protocols — including masking and social distancing — will be in place.

The nearby Wasauksing First Nation, which adjoins the town of Parry Sound, was able to hold its band election in early February safely and without incident. The First Nation did allow mail-in ballots and those who voted in person followed strict COVID-19 safety protocols.

To the north, on the Nipissing First Nation, the band election will also go ahead as planned in June. Chief Scott McLeod said they will allow online voting.

“We have a lot of confidence in the ability to do online voting. We took the position early in the pandemic last year that we had to continue to do business. We can’t just sit at home and twiddle our fingers. We do not know how long this COVID situation is going to last. We need to adapt and carry on business that’s important to our community,” the chief said. "We did not discuss putting off our election. We have the ability and the resources to hold the election safely and securely.”

Chief McLeod said he expects the election will be held with a combination of mail-in ballots, online voting and in-person voting. He added that if in-person voting in June is not safe due to COVID-19, then they will reassess the situation.

He added that he did not really want to weigh in too specifically on the election delay situation on the Magnetawan First Nation.

“It’s unfortunate and a lot of those problems are inherent in very small communities. I feel for them. They are in a difficult situation, and I hope they can come to a solution,” Chief McLeod said.

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