By Mervin Brass

Fox on treaty

Onion Lake Chief Wallace Fox is best known for sharing knowledge about treaty. This picture is from the last fall’s treaty gathering at the First Nations University of Canada.

Wallace Fox remembers the day about 12 years ago, when he had emerged from his sweat lodge, knelt down and cried out to the Creator to show him what he needed to do.

Fox said at that moment, he made a covenant with the Creator to serve as long as he lived on earth.

That service will soon be something different.

The longest serving Chief in the history of the Onion Lake Cree Nation has decided not to seek another term as the leader of Saskatchewan’s third largest First Nation.

Fox says health, age and community gossip are the reasons why he made his decision.

“People say that I’m still young but I don’t want to be seen as being Chief when I’m 65 as a pensioner,” he said. “Also all the lateral violence and gossip in the community.”

He says his family is impacted by what they hear. “You got to have thick, thick skin, to be in a position like this,” he said.

“I’ve talked to some of my sisters, a few of my brothers and they said, ‘maybe it is time,’” said Fox. “’You never done anything for Wally. You always put the people first.’”

At age 21, Fox was elected to the Onion Lake Cree Nation band council and by the age of 25 he was elected Chief of the band.

“It was a desire to try and help our people to have a better quality of life that I wanted to do this (seek leadership),” said Fox. “I used to see our people go to court, I always wanted to be a lawyer and I saw these people being railroaded by the justice system but I quit school at an early age because of an unhealthy home, a dysfunctional family and alcohol.”

That’s when he ran successfully for band council.

About four years later Fox became Chief. At the time, his community didn’t have much but he credits his predecessor, Leo Paul for teaching him how the outside political system works.

“We didn’t have employment, we had Indian Affairs controlling and ruling the land, the administration, basically just a programs services,” said the 54-year-old. “When Indian Affairs came to the band office I was asking questions about the funding agreement. I asked what happens if Chief and Council don’t sign. The arrogance and the tone of that boy from the department when he said ‘you don’t get any money.’”

After the meeting, Fox vowed he would do whatever he could so his band would not have to be threatened and intimidated by government.

Fox laughs when asked what his legacy will be following his departure from leadership.

The band’s website credits Fox for the creation of key community developments such as his community’s Indian control of education.

He established the first, First Nation owned and operated natural gas utility and negotiated a first of its kind minerals “Royalty-benefit Agreement”.

He completed financing two sets of community Capital Projects for roads, housing and infrastructure worth $23 M and $26 M in the past three years and provided political leadership for the nation’s growth in business at the local, domestic and international levels.

“I don’t know what to say about that, I’ve been Chief for such a long time,” he said. “I don’t mean to disrespect anyone, but to me a Chief is just a job. Through the Cree emersion program, the legacy I hope is that the children carry on with the language.”

On behalf of his band, Fox led a legal challenge against the Federal Government’s First Nations Transparency Act.

The newly elected Trudeau government decided not to enforce the FNTA and reinstated Onion Lake’s funding that was being withheld.

Most recently, Fox and Poundmaker Cree Nation Chief, Duane Antoine sued the Federal Government for failing to protect their band’s oil and gas resources from off-reserve drilling.

On a personal matter, Fox faces domestic violence charges with a trial scheduled for the end of June.

On May 18, 2015, Onion Lake RCMP received a complaint of an assault that occurred at a private residence on the Onion Lake Cree Nation.

Fox, 54, was arrested and charged on October 26, 2015.

“The court process will deal with that and at the end of the day that’s something I’m not even concerned about,” said Fox. “In this community, you know as well, some people thrive on the negative and they make it their life journey to get rid of this Chief. I have a handful of people like that, that are doing that to me in the community. I know and believe the outcome will be positive for me to clear my name.”

 

 

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