Sovereignty and Honourable Governance

As a community within the Anishinaabeg nation, Fort William First Nation has the inherent responsibility to make decisions that protect and benefit our people and the land.  Our sovereignty is found in our unique relationship with the land and, and as an expression of our Anishinaabeg legal orders – it is not something that can be given or taken away by Canada.

The Fort William First Nation band is but one actor in how our community carries itself as sovereign Anishinaabeg.  The band was established under the Indian Act.  That said, the band is working hard to conduct itself according to Anishinaabeg legal and political laws.  To do this, we are working towards implementing honourable governance, defined as governing ourselves according to the inherent sovereignty found in our political and legal systems.

Some sources of our political and legal systems include:

  •   Language and traditions
  •   Creation stories (aadizookaanag)
  •   Community and personal history (dibaajimowinan)
  •   Family law
  •   The relationships we carry with Anishinaabe Aki – the land.

Honourable governance means moving our community out from under control of the Indian Act by using the sources of law and political orders listed above.

But this will take time and community engagement.

To this end, the Fort William First Nation band has established a Governance Committee to engage our community in a process of constitutional development, beginning with renewing our membership/citizenship code.  We will then establish an election code, and eventually develop a constitution.

FWFN Citizenship Code

As part of a five-year plan to draft constitutional documents for our community, the Governance Committee has renewed the 1988 Fort William First Nation Band Membership Code.  We prefer the word “citizenship” over “membership,” because citizenship emphasizes that FWFN is a part of the Anishinaabeg nation whereas membership denotes being a part of a “club.”  We are not a club – we are a community made up of citizens of the Anishinaabeg nation.

Here, you will find documents related to the work of renewing the membership code.  Check-out our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section, and other important documents below, as these will keep you informed about our work.  Note that this section is updated on an on-going basis:

DRAFT FWFN Citizenship Code, April 2015
1987 Fort William First Nation Band Membership Code 
July 4, 1990 Letter from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada confirming Fort William First Nation controls its own membership
Estimating the Population Impacts of the E-Dbendaagzijig Naaknigewin
Results of 1987 referendum accepting the Band Membership Code
Understanding Fort William First Nation’s 1987 Membership Code

Please direct all feedback regarding the Draft FWFN Citizenship Code:

Governance Committee
[email protected]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: What is a Band Membership Code?

A band membership code sets the criteria for who belongs on a First Nation’s band list.  Membership codes enacted by bands under s.10 of the Indian Act must not break the rules of the Act, or the rules set out in the code itself.

Q. What is the difference between a Band Membership Code and a Citizenship Code?

The difference lies in which source of law governs how FWFN determines belonging.  Band Membership Codes stem from the Indian Act, and thus prioritize Canadian federal law in our affairs.  A Citizenship Code, on the other hand, can be based in inherent rights and responsibilities.  A Citizenship Code can therefore centre Anishinaabe legal principles when we determine who belongs with FWFN, without the federal government telling us how to decide who belongs.

Q: Doesn’t Fort William First Nation already have a Band Membership Code?

Yes. Fort William First Nation opted out of the Indian Act to control its own band list through a community referendum held on June 22, 1987.   The current Fort William First Nation Band Membership Code was approved by the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (now AANDC) on July 13, 1988.

Q. Is the Fort William Chief and Council in charge of drafting the FWFN Citizenship Code?

No.The FWFN Governance Committee is responsible for drafting the Citizenship Code.

Q: Why is a FWFN Citizenship Code important to me?

The code, whether named a membership code or citizenship code, is important because it lays out the rules that determine who belongs with FWFN.  It will help ensure that you, your children and your grandchildren are included in all the affairs of the First Nation, including rights to live on the reserve, access to financial resources, responsibilities to choose leaders through elections, etc.  The code is also important because it expresses our values as an Anishinaabe community, and is therefore a part of what gives FWFN its identity.

Q. What is the difference between “Indian status” and FWFN citizenship/membership?

Until 1985, to be a member of a band in Canada, individuals had to be registered as an Indian under the Indian Act.  This is no longer the case.  Individuals can be members of bands without having Indian status, so long as that band has opted to control its own band list, and subject to the band’s approved membership code.  Fort William First Nation, through referendum in 1987, removed Indian status as pre-requisite for band membership.

Q: Who will be drafting the Citizenship Code?

The Governance Committee is drafting the code.  To do this, the Committee will be engaging our community through focus groups to ensure the Citizenship Code reflects our collective values.

Q. Will there be a referendum to accept or reject the Citizenship Code?

Yes. Notice will be given of a referendum 30 days prior to the vote taking place.  The draft Citizenship Code will be made available to the community at the start of the 30-day referendum period.

Q: How can I get involved with this process?

Anyone interested in getting involved with this process should contact Damien Lee, FWFN Governance Coordinator, about joining a focus group.  The focus groups are meant to engage the community in visioning what our citizenship code should entail.  Focus groups are expected to take place in November 2014.


Robinson Superior 1850-Treaty 

The Robinson Treaty for the Lake Superior region, commonly called Robinson Superior Treaty, was entered into agreement on September 7, 1850, at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario between Ojibwa Chiefs inhabiting the Northern Shore of Lake Superior from Pigeon River to Batchawana Bay, and The Crown, represented by a delegation headed by William Benjamin Robinson. It is registered as the Crown Treaty Number 60.  Fort William First Nation is one of the signatories to the treaty.

10 Principles on Treaty Implementation

1. We, the First Nation, come from Mother Earth, and this determines our relationship with nature, our role as stewards of this land and all forms of life and our sovereignty.
2. We, the First Nation, occupied North America as sovereign Nations long before other people came to our shores.
3. We, the First Nation, have always made our own laws, institutions and jurisdiction which reflects our culture, values and languages.
4. Our sovereignty enabled us to enter into Treaty and other political accords with other Nations.
5. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 affirmed our sovereignty, institutionalized the Treaty-making process, and made our consent a condition before our lands and resources could be alienated.

6.  First Nations and Crown affirmed each others’ sovereignty in the treaty process.
7.  Our sovereignty defines our nationhood and this will continue forever.
8.  Our Treaty has International stature.
9.  The spirit and intent of the treaty relationship is more valid than the written text and will last as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows.
10.  Canada has an on-going obligation to fulfill the Treaty according to the Spirit and Intent.