Just over a year ago four Montreal Lake Cree Nation councillors were removed from their positions; a move which one of them described as putting the cart before the horse.
Feb. 7 marks one year since paNOW first reported on the story. At the time, the councillors wouldn’t comment on the situation as they were seeking legal advice. But now, one of the councillors involved has opened up about his experience.
Dirk McDonald served nearly two complete terms as a councillor in the Cree Nation. He was removed from office on Feb. 6 along with Roger I Bird, Sidney Nelson, and now Chief Frank J. Roberts. McDonald said proper process wasn’t followed in the councillors’ removal and he still hasn’t gotten answers about why he was fired.
“It’s been a year, and I’ve been through lots. The process [of removing us] wasn’t done right, and it continues to not be done right,” McDonald said.
According to McDonald, the councillors removal stems from a duly convened meeting of Chief and council on Feb. 2, 2017 in the Little Red River Reserve 106B. The meeting was called to iron out election details, and pass the Cree Nation's election, executive and financial management acts; the future of then band manager Mark D’amato was also discussed.
McDonald said he and some of his fellow councillors felt D’amato wasn’t living up to his duties as a band manager. He said chief and council, along with program directors and committee heads were unaware of their budgets and the Cree Nation’s financial standing.
According to the former councillor, the motion to remove D’amato from his position passed a vote.
“On Feb. 6, we went [to a meeting] thinking we were signing the [Band Council Resolution to remove D’amato]. We had all of our council there, the chief, and two of our Elders,” McDonald said. “Without an agenda... Without saying an opening prayer or anything like that, chief started saying ‘you’re fired,’… we got ambushed.”
A BCR was signed by four other councillors and Chief Edward Henderson, which met the Cree Nation’s requirement for quorum, calling for McDonald and his colleague's suspension and removal from duties.
A press release was issued stating the four councillors were suspended for deliberately misrepresented facts, took part in corrupt practises, breached their oath of office, disrupted band operations, compromised the band’s standing with vendors, attempted to destabilize the government and disregarded the band’s legislation.
D’amato also called the councillors' actions an "attempted coup" when paNOW first reached out regarding the removal. McDonald said he doesn’t know how his and his fellow councillors' actions amounted to such a label.
“If we were guilty of all that, why weren’t we charged?” McDonald said, adding the firing breached processes spelled out in the Cree Nation's Executive act.
D'amato said the councillors were not removed from office, rather they were suspended. He said the decision was sent to the Elder's Advisory Committee and didn't need to be passed on to an appeal tribunal.
"It went only as far as the Elders, it never went that far [to the appeal tribunal]," D'amato said when asked about the process which was followed in the councillors suspension.
Refrained from legal action for as long as possible
McDonald said the four former councillors filed legal action disputing their removal from office. They waited until March 29, the day the Cree Nation’s advanced polls opened for the spring 2017 general election, to do so.
Together, the four councillors pooled their funds and enlisted the support of legal counsel to take their termination to court.
McDonald said their case was dismissed by a federal judge. No appeal has been filed since.
“We did everything we could to resolve it… we don’t want to go to federal court no more,” McDonald said.
He said he wants a chance to confront his accusers and learn what actions he’s guilty of.
“We know this was wrong, not just to us… but to the whole Cree Nation,” McDonald said.
Still maintains a positive outlook
Despite the hardships he’s endured, McDonald still holds a positive outlook for the future of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation.
“Our administration is doing a good job right now,” he said. “We’ve got the most transparency and accountability in this short time [since Frank Roberts was acclaimed as chief] than we did when I was councillor,” McDonald said.
The former councillor called on Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to update their governance page to reflect an appeal tribunal decision which was handed down on Jan. 30, which named Frank Roberts as the Cree Nation’s chief.
The federal department has since updated the governance section of the Cree Nation’s community profile page to reflect the tribunal’s decision. According to a response from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, the website was updated upon receiving “more information from the First Nation.”
McDonald said he would now like to see the current administration move on from a month’s long election dispute to address important issues in the Cree Nation like housing and mental health.
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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