A former chief of Acho Dene Koe First Nation in Fort Liard, N.W.T., is challenging a decision by the First Nation’s chief and council to postpone the 2020 election.
In an April 22 letter to Indigenous Services Canada and the First Nation’s elections appeals officer, Floyd Bertrand says there is a “lack of consistencies from the current chief and council in their decision making,” and that the election should go ahead on the original date this spring.
The First Nation’s election was set to take place on June 8, but the chief and council announced Wednesday it was delaying voting until Nov. 9 over concerns related to COVID-19 and the territorial state of emergency.
“People are still saying that’s not a legitimate reason,” Bertrand told CBC.
“There’s no cases of COVID in the community, there’s no cases of community spread — so just have the election.”
The chief and council said they decided to postpone the election upon a recommendation from the elections officer, Tony Devlin of Inuvik.
The First Nation’s 2007 customs election code states that a local elections officer will be appointed. Bertrand argues that, because the current elections officer is from Inuvik, the resolution to postpone the election is invalid.
Bertrand wrote in his letter that, if the First Nation wants to hold the election in November, a local elections officer must be appointed so they will “listen to Acho Dene Koe Band membership concerns and recommendations.”
Members weren’t consulted, says former chief
The decision to postpone the election was made without consulting Acho Dene Koe First Nation members, Bertrand continued, causing many to lose trust in their leadership.
“This chief and council is just doing whatever they want,” Bertrand said.
“A lot of people are offended because they elected this chief and council and they’re supposed to consult with us.”
Leadership should have set up a suggestion box system or Facebook poll to record whether members wanted to postpone the election, Bertrand said.
Indigenous Services Canada has recommended that First Nations postpone upcoming elections because of the public health risks posed by large gatherings. Bertrand writes such recommendations are an “option for [a] First Nation to adopt and use, not a law.”
Outdoor election should be considered
Bertrand said during the nomination period from April 24 to May 9, the First Nation’s members should be allowed to obtain and submit nomination forms while practicing physical distancing.
“Everyone’s practicing [physical] distancing,” Bertrand said.
“People still go to the stores, people doing groceries and that so what’s the difference? Why postpone it?”
Fort Liard has a few sites that would be appropriate for an outdoor election, including a large arbour where tables and chairs could be set up to respect the territory’s physical distancing requirements, Bertrand said.
Bertrand has taken issue with the Acho Dene Koe First Nation’s election process before.
Band membership should have been consulted.- Floyd Bertrand, former Chief of Acho Dene Koe First Nation
Last summer, he argued the 2007 custom election code, which sets three-year terms for the chief and council, did not have legal standing because it was never voted upon. He led a call for immediate elections.