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Protestors 'feel abandoned’ by leadership in Marten Falls

Some members of Marten Falls are criticizing leadership over an alleged lack of involvement in the community and a deficit in employment opportunities.

MARTEN FALLS FIRST NATION — Some members of this regional, fly-in First Nation are demanding change.

A group of Marten Falls First Nations members have staged a peaceful protest outside of their Band Office by setting up an encampment, posting signs, and nailing a board across the Band Office door.

The focus of the protest, as noted by organizer Patricia Achneepineskum, is to instigate a discussion about jobs in the community, an alleged lack of leadership presence – particularly at the Band Office – and the supposed neglect of Marten Falls’ youth centre.

“We started because we felt like we weren’t being recognized – what was happening in our community. We felt abandoned by our own leadership and we had a lot of questions and concerns about our community, especially with administration,” she said.

Achneepineskum said her and fellow organizer, Delia O’Kees, have seen a lot of mismanagement in the community.

“We want to know what’s happening with our monies – for everybody, our members that live here. We have nobody managing our office here. Our office is being neglected by our leaders. This has been happening too long and we have a lot of kids here that are struggling with mental health.”

“We have no support . . . we’ve been losing a lot of our youth,” she said.

O’Kees said it was time to make their voices heard.

“There’s a lot of people that want this too and just didn’t know how to do it, so we decided to do it. We have a lot of support from the community.”

“The main goal was to get our leadership to pay attention to us. We have general meetings, we ask questions but they don’t answer us or follow-up on any grievances that we bring to the meeting – it simply just gets ignored,” she said.

One thing in particular O’Kees noted is a new administrative office for Marten Falls First Nation which opened in Thunder Bay at 577 11th Avenue.

O’Kees said the new administration office just puts more distance between leadership and community members.

“The administration is not here in the community and a few council members live in Thunder Bay, they don’t live in the community. They’re supposed to reside within the community,” she said.

She added there are also council members who hold more than one position in the community which has created conflicts of interest.

“The leadership micromanage the managers, there’s lots of nepotism in our community – all their family works and other families don’t get a chance. It’s really sad . . . they don’t follow their own policies, they only follow their policies when it suits them. They don’t get training dollars to train people here, they hire outside help. It’s like they forget about us,” she said.

There’s also the matter of Marten Falls’ youth centre which O’Kees said exemplifies leadership’s broken promises.

“Our youth centre has been sitting there – it’s not even connected. They made promises to the youth and they don’t follow-up on promises,” she said.

Speaking to Dougall Media, Chief Bruce Achneepineskum – who returned to the community on May 26 after some time away – said the protestors are simply exercising their democratic rights.

“This is a democracy. They have the right to protest. We’re a government – Marten Falls First Nation – and we seek to promote transparency and accountability,” he said.

“We are well aware of our legal obligations to our members. We take that very seriously.”

O’Kees mentioned a petition shared by her and Patricia Achneepineskum which has already gained 60 signatures but Chief Achneepinskum said he has not seen such a petition.

Instead, Achneepineskum said he received a list of their grievances which he took home and studied.

“I read quite a few of them. A lot of it has to do with accountability and transparency – those kind of governance issues. Also, community decisions being ratified in the community, if appropriate,” he said.

He acknowledged the Board Office being boarded-up and said he made the call to the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service to have the board taken off of the door for safety reasons.

He also said Marten Falls has its own process for addressing disagreements.

“We have a process where we get feedback from the community membership quite regularly, on a quarterly basis. Our last general meeting was this winter – January – which we have on and off-reserve,” he said.

According to the chief, Marten Falls’ next general meeting is scheduled for the evening of May 30.

“That’s our means of giving (community members) updates on the latest happenings, news, events, initiatives, projects, and all that. We’re on-course with that . . . We’ve been planning this general meeting for quite some time,” he said.

While the general meeting should provide O’Kees, Achneepineskum, and their fellow protestors with a platform to raise questions and concerns, O’Kees observed that – as of May 28 – they are not included on the meeting agenda.

Regardless, O’Kees and Achneepineskum intend to continue making their voices heard.

“We’re there to stand up for our community and we just want the best for our reserve and our people,” Achneepineskum said.

Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Austin Campbell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Austin Campbell is a local journal initiative reporter covering stories in the Superior North region.
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