Powwow goes ahead despite “No” vote in Waskaganish referendum

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The results of the referendum in Waskaganish are in and it’s not what many were expecting. A solid majority voted to reject a powwow in the community.

However, while 2014 ballots were made available, only 426 votes were cast. A final tally had 154 (36.2%) for the powwow, 245 (57.5%) against, and 27 (6.3%) spoiled ballots.

Some, like Waskaganish resident Mary Diamond, believe the results may have been skewed. Diamond, who shared a photo of her intentionally spoiled ballot on Facebook, applauded the 26 others who used their vote as a protest.

On the ballot itself, Diamond wrote, “I do not believe this referendum is necessary, spoil.” She also explained that there was a lot of confusion surrounding the referendum.

“There wasn’t much information being shared,” Diamond told the Nation. “Another part might have been that the organizers were saying that, regardless of the vote, they would still go on with the powwow. So what’s the point of the referendum if they were still going to go ahead? Why vote, right?”

A Waskaganish band councillor echoed that statement.

“To me, it’s not a binding referendum,” said Gordon Blueboy. “There’s no resolution that came from the results of the referendum. Even Chief Darlene Cheechoo didn’t have an answer at the information session when asked what would happen after the results.”

Blueboy said he doubts that Chief Cheechoo would ask the police to shut down a powwow. “Even if the police were called, the jail is too small to fit all the people coming into the community to support the powwow,” he joked.

Cree Nation Government Executive Director Bill Namagoose also said that it was highly unlikely the Eeyou/Eenou Police Force (EEPF) would enforce the referendum.

“The EEPF can only enforce laws and court orders,” Namagoose explained. “Referendums, band council resolutions and instructions from chiefs are not laws and cannot be enforced by police. They will act as they see proper and legal.”

Since the results were first posted September 19, the story has been making the rounds on social media, with some calling it a result of colonization.

The Waskaganish Pow Wow Facebook page posted a response following the announcement.

“The referendum results were not what I expected but we are going ahead, no laws are broken, no offence taken,” wrote Susan Esau, one of the powwow’s planners. “People’s votes are an indication that we need to demonstrate what this Gathering is about, to come together in friendship and respect for one another, please be kind to each other.”

And with the powwow to go ahead as scheduled, and the fact that many people, including Esau and Blueboy abstaining from what they saw as an invalid referendum, it begs the question: what was the point?

When the Nation caught up with Esau, she was exhausted after a flurry of interviews, meetings and planning for the what-ifs.

“I never expected it to be this much of a fight,” she told the Nation. “We’ve tried every which way to find an understanding with these people but it seems like their belief system is in the way.”

Esau also said the online support in the wake of the referendum has been a welcome distraction.

“I’ve been working for every waking minute today, so I’ve only glanced at the notifications but support has been coming in from all across the country,” noted Esau.

“Romeo’s coming on Saturday,” added Esau, referring to support for the powwow received from Romeo Saganash, the Member of Parliament for Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou.

Photo by Saige Mukash

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