Alexander First Nation residents will head to the polls for a second time this year now that an appeal board has struck down the results of last summer’s band election.
About 32 people ran in the July 13 Alexander band election, with Audra Arcand, Marty Arcand, Craig Yellowdirt, Cheryl Savoie, Anita Arcand, and Marcel Paul elected as councillors and Kurt Burnstick elected as chief.
Electoral appeal board chairperson Geraldine Hill overturned that election last week and directed the band’s electoral officer to call a new election and nomination meeting.
Alexander chief electoral officer Marvin Yellow Horn posted a notice “re-election” last Friday. The new election was to be held Oct. 2, with Nomination Day falling on Sept. 18.
Yellow Horn said that anyone 21 or older as of Oct. 2 that had resided in Alexander for at least a month (which he said meant a month before Election Day) could vote in or run in the election. Anyone who wasn’t already on the voters’ list had to file a declaration of residency by 8 p.m. Oct. 2.
Nominations for the position of chief (one) and councillor (six) will be held at the Alexander Community Hall from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Sept. 18, Yellow Horn said.
Hill overturned the July 2017 election as a result of an appeal filed by resident Edwin Paul, the hearing for which happened earlier this month, said band resident Rodney Yellowdirt, who was familiar with the decision. That appeal challenged the election based on Sect. 3(b) of the Alexander customary election regulations, which state that “Chief and Council shall call an election at least thirty (30) days before the date when another election would ordinarily be held.”
In a letter on the ruling addressed to chief and council (a copy of which was provided to the Gazette by Yellowdirt), Hill said the board heard evidence that Sect. 3(b) had traditionally been interpreted to mean that calling an election required the unanimous consent of chief and council. As Chief Kurt Burnstick and some other councillors were not present at the May 30 vote to call the election, there was no unanimous consent.
The board also heard that the election regulations did not give council authority to call an early election, and that the May 30 motion clearly indicated that the election being called was an early one.
The board thus granted Paul’s appeal and ordered the election overturned.
The board had also heard a related appeal filed by Yellowdirt and Colette M. Arcand. The two challenged practices in the election in terms of how the band determined who was eligible to vote.
The band has said that only band members that had lived on the reserve for at least 30 days prior to an election could run or vote in it, Yellowdirt said.
While the band’s electoral regulations define a candidate or elector as a person who “is ordinarily resident or has resided on the Alexander reserve for a period of not less than one (1) month,” Yellowdirt noted that the rules don’t specify when that month has to occur. He argued that this means it could happen any time during a person’s life, which would give off-reserve members the right to vote.
“More than 50 per cent of our population lives off reserve,” he said, and the band’s interpretation of the code gives on-reserve members a monopoly on elections.
“It’s discrimination to our own people.”
Hill did not rule on Yellowdirt’s case (as he sought the same remedy as Paul), but noted in her letter to council that the board had heard evidence that some off-reserve members had been allowed to vote and others were not in the election. The board called on council to update its election code to address any ambiguities and to use consistent standards of residency when determining eligibility to vote.
Yellowdirt said he was happy that the election was overturned but noted that the problem he flagged still exists, as the band had yet to amend its electoral code.
“How can you go back to the polls when you’re still in non-compliance with the Canadian Charter of Human Rights?” he said.
Yellowdirt called on the band to either amend its regulations or adopt the First Nations Elections Act to allow off-reserve members to vote.
Alexander band councillors and administrators did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story.