UNDERSTANDING OUR PIMICIKAMAK OKIMAWIN (GOVERNMENT) Indigenous government – a success story
Pimicikamak (pim ih chik uh mak) n. [Cree] 1. [the place] where a lake lies across the river 2. the land surrounding that place 3. the people that has inhabited that land since time immemorial 4. the nation comprised of that people inhabiting that land –adj. of or about that place or that land or that people. Okimawin (oh kih mah win) n. [Cree] government.
Pimicikamak is a self-governing indigenous nation. Its origins pre-date European settlement of Canada. Pimicikamak became part of Canada by its representative, Té-pas-té-nam, signing Treaty 5 at a historic ceremony in Norway House in 1875. Suppressed by federal policy and laws for more than a century, Pimicikamak Okimawin re-awakened in the early 1990’s, with the Pimicikamak people exercising its fundamental human right of self-determination. Pimicikamak Okimawin is a “grassroots” government, based on traditional Cree democracy.
Some may confuse Pimicikamak with Cross Lake Band of Indians (“the First Nation”), or even regard it as a new name for the Band. In reality the two are as fundamentally different in almost every way as, say, Canada and Winnipeg. Some of the main constitutional and legal differences between them are summarized in the attached table. In the last decade the Pimicikamak unwritten constitution and other customary laws have been updated to meet modern needs. Pimicikamak laws are made by the people, in contrast with Canadian laws, which are made by the Crown in Parliament at Ottawa. The authority of this people to make its own laws is simply that it always has, and it never surrendered or lost that authority.
Pimicikamak’s two original traditional councils – the Women’s Council and the Council of Elders have a veto over written laws of the nation and have other key roles. To these the Youth Council has recently been added, with the status of a traditional council. It is a powerful force notwithstanding that it has no formal veto over written laws, because youth are a majority of Pimicikamak citizens and Pimicikamak governs itself by consensus.
Pimicikamak Okimawin is a body corporate and politic comprised of the Executive Council (Chief and Council), Elder’s Council, Women’s Council and the Youth Council and the Secretary to the Councils. The Four Councils is and meets as a single entity, and determines national policy by consensus.
The Executive Council (the Chief and Council) is a modern innovation. It is responsible for the Executive Function for managing the day to day affairs of the nation. It does so by consensus. Its decisions are governed by national policy. (In case it might stray, either the Chief of the Nation or the three traditional councils can call an election at any time; otherwise the Executive Council has a term of up to Four Years and 10 Calendar Months.)
Through the Executive Council, national policy also applies to the Cross Lake Band of Indians. The Band no longer holds elections under the Indian Act. The Pimicikamak Election Law prescribes that members of the Executive Council and are also the same, ex officio, the Chief and the Council of the Band and in that capacity may exercise all of its (very limited) powers under the Indian Act.
Unlike the race-based status and membership provisions of the Indian Act (which discriminate between classes of individuals based on bloodlines), Pimicikamak citizenship is fundamentally based on choice. Before the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the Indian Act rules, Pimicikamak’s Election Law enabled all citizens over 18 to vote without discrimination based on residence.
The Indian Act and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada preside over third-world conditions of poverty, corruption and human despair. Breaking free from this colonial system, Pimicikamak Okimawin has accomplished most of the reforms that the Minister of Indian Affairs is hoping to set in motion through proposed federal legislation. For example, Pimicikamak’s national policy of financial probity has brought the Band back from the brink of bankruptcy and established standards that any government – including Canada’s – could feel proud to emulate. Neheyew culture at Pimicikamak Territory and primarily at Sipiwesk Lake enabled the ancestors of the Pimicikamak people to adapt to change and to survive since time immemorial. Cross Lake is the modern cultural centre of Pimicikamak. This community of about 8,400 people (on reserve band members) presently is divided into a federal municipality (Cross Lake reserve) which is subject to the federal Indian Act and a provincial municipality governed by a Mayor and Council under the provincial Northern Affairs Act.
With few exceptions, residents on the Indian Reserve and the Northern Affairs Community at Cross Lake are both Pimicikamak citizens and Band members. Under federal and provincial laws they are deeply divided and their rights are different. Under Pimicikamak law, they are identical, as are those of Pimicikamak citizens who live in other communities. Pimicikamak laws are subject to its treaty relationship with the Crown. For example, Treaty 5 granted other Canadians the right to share Pimicikamak lands. Treaty 12 (aka the Northern Flood Agreement) granted Manitoba Hydro rights, and grandfathered resource-use rights of residents who are not Pimicikamak citizens.
The strategic objective of Pimicikamak is to survive as a people. Survival is a serious challenge in the face of continuing federal governmental efforts to extinguish (or, in the words of a recent Minister of Indian Affairs, “disaggregate”) the nation, and the environmental and spiritual damage caused by hydro-electric development. Specific national objectives are “to heal the land, heal the people, and heal the nation”. Key steps towards these objectives – re-establishing national self-determination; reinvigorating national culture; incrementally re-establishing and modernizing government institutions; instituting financial probity; building capacity; conserving and nourishing treaty relationships; exposing abuses; beginning to clean up environmental damage; rebuilding a national economy – are now under way.
REBUILDING OUR NATIONHOOD
In 1998, Pimicikamak stood up with one unified voice and as one People, and said “NO MORE”. No more assault on our Mother Earth, our way of life, and our very lives and health. No more failures by the Crown Parties to meet their legal obligations to clean up the mess and fix the devastation to our society. In March 1998, women, children, men and elders walked and drove in trucks in a long trail heading for the Netnak Road. There we stood for weeks to assert our rights to our lands and waters, and to stop the further invasion by Hydro. We said we would not bow down and would not go away: we would not sell out our Creator-granted and treaty rights. We would not sell our souls – who we are – for dollar bills. We would not sell out our Mother Earth, as it is our sacred duty to protect her. On May 8, 1998 the Crown Parties signed a written promise to stop trying to force us to sell out our NFA treaty rights, and to start implementing this Charter of Rights and Benefits in its spirit and intent. This was the beginning. A beginning of finding again who we are as a People of the Creator, of finding our path to living as our Creator intended. Our path, what we decide. This is what is called “self-determination”: we as a People together deciding our own laws, government and future. No more of being pushed down a road paved by industrial hydro and other governments who treat us as subjects. We knew then, as we know now, that rights do not mean much unless we have the means, or the power, to carry them out. We knew we had to reach outward to others for their support, and to share the truth with the outside world. The power of many working together is much greater than the power of one.
In 1999, Pimicikamak had its first national election of modern times. This was not an election based on the Indian Act – in fact, we ignored the Indian Act because it had been imposed on us against our will and is designed to keep us as slaves and subjects of Canada. Pimicikamak citizens (which some are Band Member of Cross Lake under the Indian Act) had and carried out the right to vote for your own government, one that is based on our culture and way of life. We now have our own Traditional Councils, and the Executive Council. Together, your Four Councils set our own national policy and protocols based on what you, through consensus, tell us. Pimicikamak citizens are telling the world and the Crown that we could no longer be beaten up in silence, and that we had to do whatever we could to restore your power to carry out our Creator granted rights.
In 2004, a second National Election was held for Pimicikamak. The outcome of that national election negatively affected Pimicikamak to function as an indigenous nation. Evidence revealed many elected officials opted to pursue a First Nation-Crown relationship rather than a Nation-Crown relationship which is dependent, race-based and discriminatory.
In 2013, the people united one more time to address the ongoing onslaught of cultural genocide and implementation of race-based standards which are legalistic in nature by Manitoba Hydro, Canada and Manitoba. It was clearly evident that the Crown had no intention of honoring its relationship with Pimicikamak.
In 2014, after much careful planning, Pimicikamak people stood one more time against the oppressor – Manitoba Hydro. Manitoba Hydro was granted the right to live in Pimicikamak Territory after the signing of the 1977 Northern Flood Agreement however does not have the right to destroy Pimicikamak Lands, waters, cultural and way of life of the Pimicikamak people. Pimicikamak people subsequently evicted Manitoba Hydro from its homeland for failing to honor its relationship. A process agreement was signed after by Manitoba and Hydro with Pimicikamak committing not to pursue their genocidal policies.
In 2016, it is evident that Hydro and Manitoba continue to pursue a policy that is race based and discriminatory. “The Process Agreement” is seen as another legalistic tool used by Manitoba and Hydro to contain the rights of Pimicikamak people and not honor the relationship it had signed in 1977.
In 2017, the Process Agreement was replaced with a process called “Grant Funding”. Grant Funding was used as a vehicle to implement certain program approved by Manitoba Hydro to benefit Pimicikamak Citizens. Grant Funding was designed for Manitoba Hydro to have a “sustainable presence” in Pimicikamak Territory. Many citizens benefitted from the Gran Funding Programs such as Domestic Fish and Food Program ,Hot Lunch Program, Safety Monitoring Emergency Response, Navigation Response, Ininiwi Pimatisiwin, Wellness Programs and Administration Funding all designed to support the revival of traditional governance, job creation, and more importantly reconnecting Pimicikamak citizens back to the land.