By Frank Larue
Newly elected grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba chiefs Derek Nepinak served as chief the Pine Creek First Nation before he was nominated grand chief. The band was having financial problems when he arrived; they were in third-party management and had several garnishees filed against the Band. Within nine months, Chief Nepinak took the Pine Creek First Nation out of third-party management and settled the garnishees. He raised $4 million in new housing investments, and when he stepped down as chief, the Band was financially secure and had no debtors knocking on their door.
Derek received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Alberta, a law degree from the University of Saskatchewan, and the Aboriginal Governance master’s degree from the University of Manitoba. He also attended the Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, where he completed the Aboriginal Lands, Resource, & Governance program. Following his tenure as chief of Pine Creek, he was the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs co-chairman for consultation and accommodation and was chairman of the West Region Tribal council. He has built a reputation as a strong negotiator with leadership qualities and his educational background brings a wealth of legal knowledge to his new position. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs represents 59 First Nation Bands with a population of 128,000 Natives. “The Assembly serves as advocates,” Derek said. “Our advocacy is built on the foundation of inherent rights and treaty rights. We don’t lobby; we have a more fundamental relationship with Canada.”
The grand chief must deal with a list of priorities, but Derek puts health and education at the top. “In cities, teachers receive fair salaries and full benefits, and there is opportunity for more recreational activities and healthier eating options. But that funding is not being offered to First Nations communities. This is not just Manitoba, but across Canada. The AMC receives contribution-funding agreements from the federal government. They are proposal-driven initiatives, and there is no autonomy in how the money is spent. It’s hard to generate revenue through this process to tackle issues plaguing the province’s Aboriginal community. We need consistency in the way in which we receive funding, whether that be an Indian education or a health act that would create statutory finding obligations with Canada. That would be the true realization of that government to government relationship our communities have talked about for generations,” Derek told The Uniter newspaper.
There are few First Nation leaders with the legal education Derek has, and it will serve him well as grand chief. He has proven that he understands business matters as well and when he announced his candidacy he publicly stated he understood the commitment he would take to be grand chief. “I am committed to working with chiefs to develop innovative strategies and partnerships for the benefit of our First Nations communities and governments.