The newest Chief for the Lubicon Lake Nation is expecting his election victory to be challenged in federal court.
“We’re expecting appeals or some kind of court challenge,” said Billy Joe Laboucan, who was acclaimed Chief in a Feb. 15 election. Five councillors were chosen by secret ballot – the first time an election has not been by a show of hands – with nine candidates running for the positions.
Laboucan has been recognized by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada as the new chief. The federal government has not recognized a Lubicon Chief since 2009.
“We had two conflicting reports from members claiming to be duly elected chief and council so we have never recognized either Steve Noskey or Bernard Ominayak as Chief of the Lubicon Nation and because we did not recognize either of those men as being Chief we could not enter into a funding agreement with the Nation, that’s why we brought in third party management,” said Glenn Luff, department spokesman with the Alberta office.
A series of events occurred in 2009 which led to the federal government contracting Meyer Norris Penny to conduct business on the First Nation on behalf of the government. A failed election in April was followed by subsequent actions in June that saw Noskey claim title of Chief through an election, and then Ominayak claiming to be appointed as Chief for life. Last year, Noskey threw his support behind Ominayak, which resulted in a letter being sent by Ominayak to the federal government claiming the dispute had been resolved.
“According to us there was no community involvement in the resolution of that dispute, there was no election that took place. It was two gentlemen agreeing that one of them would be Chief of the Nation,” said Luff.
Laboucan says he is currently working on establishing a co-management partnership with Kee Tas Kee Now Tribal Council which will allow him to request that the government return control of federal dollars to the band. The federal government will honour that request as of April 1, says Luff, despite a pending challenge of Laboucan’s victory. Laboucan expects the co-management to last one year.
As the First Nation has no appeal process in its election custom code, the results of the election must be challenged in federal court.
Garrett Tomlinson, communications director for Ominayak, calls Laboucan’s election “a fraud being perpetrated by Indian Affairs.”
A public meeting held shortly after the Feb. 15 election, resulted in Ominiyak and council receiving a “clear mandate to fight this in any fashion they can,” said Tomlinson, who claims Ominayak has community support. “People are outraged. They are absolutely livid.… There is a clear desire from the community that no one from outside is going to come in and tell the people here how things are going to be run or what’s going to happen.”
The Feb. 15 election was held in neighbouring Cadotte Lake because “political interference” made it impossible for the election to take place in Little Buffalo, says Laboucan, who also charges his opponents with tearing down public notice posters that announced the election.
Along with a secret ballot, this election was also the first time that Lubicon members not living in the traditional territory were allowed to vote. One hundred of the 266 eligible voters cast ballots, says Laboucan, and the majority of those who voted live in Little Buffalo.
“The election was conducted fairly and properly… and it was transparent. It also represented the wishes of the majority of the Lubicon people,” said Laboucan. He says the Lubicon Lake Membership Society, created two years ago, appointed an electoral officer and ensured that the Lubicon Constitution was followed.
Laboucan and the five elected council members, Brian Laboucan, Mike Ominayak, Irene Laboucan, Joe Auger and Cheryl Laboucan, are to serve five-year terms. Chief Laboucan says some of the councillors’ terms will be dropped to four years to avoid a wholesale turnover in the next election. An Elders council and youth council will also be established to advise Chief and council.
Laboucan says he will be getting on with business of addressing such issues as housing, social assistance, education, lack of training for youth, and will pursue economic development. His administration will be set up in Little Buffalo in the space Meyers Norris Penny presently occupies.
“There is a lot of hope in the community,” said Laboucan, who adds he is “cautiously optimistic” about what lies ahead.