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Group works to overthrow election results
A group of members of the Poundmaker Cree First Nation are considering their next steps in having their chief removed and the latest election declared invalid.
In the May 18 election, two of the three men who pleaded guilty to charges of fraud were re-elected to their current positions. Chief Duane Antoine defeated three other candidates, his closest opponent by 74 votes, while Colin Favel retained his seat on the four-member council. A third man, Councillor Bryan Tootoosis was defeated. Twenty-four people sought positions as councillors.
All three men are awaiting sentencing Sept. 18. They were among nine members, either present or past councillors or band trustees of the Poundmaker First Nation, to originally face 47 charges of theft, fraud and breach of trust relating to misspending of Treaty Land Entitlement funds back in 2004. Antoine, Favel and Tootoosis were each charged with two counts of theft over $5,000, two counts of fraud over $5,000, two counts of breach of trust by a public official, and one count of criminal breach of trust. They pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
Twenty-five to 30 band members met June 11 to begin the process of removing Antoine and Favel from their positions by having the election deemed invalid.
“Even if we accept the ’98 Band Custom (Election Regulations), there are a lot of gaps in this election,” said Malcolm Andrews, who pegs himself as a “concerned band member aware of the jurisdiction of band custom governance and we’re exercising that.”
The newly appointed three-member tribunal as well as Antoine and Favel were invited to the June 11 appeal hearing. Only one tribunal member attended. Newly elected Councillor Colby Tootoosis was the only representative from band council present.
Tribunal member Annie Weenie heard the evidence presented by members on the floor and ruled that the election was invalid, said Andrews. According to the Band Custom Election Regulations, the tribunal “shall have the final authority on appeal hearings.”
Andrews points out that according to the Band Custom Election Regulations set by the Poundmaker Cree Nation, section 10 states that any member charged with an indictable offense is not eligible to run for chief or council.
Along with concerns over the eligibility of Antoine and the two councillors who pleaded guilty to charges under the Criminal Code, are concerns over election procedures.
If Antoine and Favel, and the other three newly-elected councillors refuse to step down, Andrews said the matter will be taken to the federal court for an injunction. A lawyer has been hired and is working with the concerned members.
Andrews says he is disappointed not only with the actions of the three members who ran for office after having pleaded guilty to criminal charges but also with the actions – or non-actions – of Poundmaker Cree Nation members.
Voter turnout was low considering the issues surrounding the election. Of 851 people eligible to vote, 448 cast ballots for chief and 220 of those went to Antoine.
Low voter turnout and Antoine’s victory were due to two reasons, says Andrews.
“(Antoine and Favel) play the scare tactic. There’s a total disrespect for the band governance process and that’s chiefly influenced by Duane,” he said.
Andrews also points out that polls closed early making it difficult for off-reserve members to travel in after work to vote and no other voting options were available.
Approximately 40 per cent of the band’s 1,500 members live off-reserve.
Those same scare tactics were in place June 11, says Andrews, which resulted in a low turnout of the community meeting.
As far as Andrews is concerned now that the tribunal has made its ruling, the Poundmaker Cree Nation has no chief or council in place.
“What we wish for now is, okay, we’ll stop it for now…. Let’s put some rules in place that are fully ratified by the community,” he said, pointing out the need for changes to the Band Custom Election Regulations and the Constitution, as well as determining fully the role and responsibilities of the tribunal. “If we can get those in place then we’ll establish a level playing field for everybody.”
Rod Desnomie, spokesperson for Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada’s Saskatchewan office, said the federal government is aware of what is transpiring on the Poundmaker Cree Nation but will not be getting involved.
“This is how they select leadership through their custom code so it’s an internal matter to the First Nation,” he said. “If their appeal tribunal doesn’t work, then they can turn to the courts.”
Neither Chief Duane Antoine or Councillor Colin Favel would return phone calls from Sage.
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