Montreal Lake: one Nation, two chiefs?

By Bryan Eneas
December 6, 2017 - 8:00am

Two people have claimed the title of chief in the Montreal Lake Cree Nation, situated roughly 100 kilometers north of Prince Albert.

The issue comes after a series of contested events following the band's general election. Edward Henderson was originally named chief, but Frank J. Roberts appealed this decision leading to a call for a new election by the Appeal Tribunal.

“Mr. Roberts was improperly precluded from running as a candidate in the election... in a manner that could be reasonably perceived to have affected the outcome of the election,” the tribunal decision read. “As a result, the appeal tribunal orders a by-election for the position of chief only.”

Montreal Lake Cree Nation’s Election Act of 2016 grants the Appeal Tribunal the power to call for an election within 21 days of rendering their decision. No new candidates are allowed to enter the by-election, and not all candidates who participated in the original election are required to participate.

The election act also states the decision of the Appeals Tribunal is final.

Chief Electoral Officer Clifford Bird called for a by-election on Sept. 27, 2017 with Roberts name included on the new ballot.

Roberts eventually won after the other two candidates withdrew their names from the ballot. Notices posted in the community by Bird announced Roberts as chief by acclamation. He was sworn in as the new chief on Nov. 22.

In the Cree Nation’s election act, “elected” can be defined as a candidate who is declared or determined by the Chief Electoral Officer when their candidacy is “neither opposed nor challenged in which case their office is assented to by acclamation.”

Bird’s notice stated Henderson was not a candidate because he failed to declare his intent to run for chief in the by-election.

However, in a press release issued on Dec. 1, Henderson contested the legitimacy of that by-election.

Henderson’s statement argued there was no clear decision by the appointed Appeals Tribunal regarding the spring election, which means Bird had no grounds to call a by-election.

“This ‘run-away process’ resulting in Frank Roberts having the audacity to declare himself ‘CHIEF by acclamation’ without a single ballot being cast, is a slap in the face to every band member in the Montreal Lake Cree Nation,” Henderson’s press release reads.

The statement said the Chief Electoral Officer “normally could not conceive holding an election or bi-election (sic) without following proper procedure,” which “demonstrates a clear lack of knowledge and respect for the Band's own Election Code.”

Mark D'Amato, band manager of the Cree Nation, also previously disputed the September vote. He argued Bird had overstepped his boundaries as Chief Electoral Officer by calling for a by-election because chief and council had not issued a call for the ballot.

In an email sent by D'Amato to paNOW, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) confirmed they received a request to update their records in regards to the chief's position.

“As Montreal Lake Cree Nation is governed in accordance with your own custom election law, INAC has neither the mandate nor the jurisdiction to adjudicate or resolve internal election disputes,” the statement read. “As such, until a court decision is rendered ruling on the validity of the by-election, INAC is compelled not to update our records with the information received on Nov. 21, 2017.”

D'Amato previously told paNOW he would be seeking legal counsel following the acclamation of Roberts.

Henderson calls for General Election

“The call for a complete general election was precipitated by an irreconcilable and fractured council which left the First Nation without an effective government since April,” Henderson’s statement read.

Henderson said he hoped the general election ends political division within the band while saving money by preventing legal battles. The release stated the spring election cost the band some $260,000 in expenses and legal costs after appeals.

He said the Chief Electoral Officer erred in both his candidate selection in the general election and his call for a by-election for the chief’s position.

Henderson stated the upcoming general election would be overseen by external independent election officers to ensure the bands’ election act is followed.

Henderson’s statement concluded by saying the band should stick to the Treaty and inherent right of self-governance rather than letting external sources sort issues out.

“As a First Nation we need to affirm our right to self-determination and promote good governance by seeking resolution to our own internal issues, rather than having them decided by the Federal Court,” Henderson said.

General Election poster distributed

To add to the confusion, Henderson issued a flyer specifically outlining the parameters of a new election. The issue, however, is neither a Band Council Resolution has called for an election, nor has the Chief Electoral officer endorsed a new election.

Henderson, regardless, provided information including voting dates on Jan. 30, 2018. 

As the poster is a call for a general election, the chief and all councillor positions are up for grabs.

 

 

 

 

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