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Elders want election for new chief

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, November 3, 2008

DENINU KU'E/FORT RESOLUTION - Some elders with Deninu Ku'e First Nation (DKFN) are calling for an election to be held for a new chief.

The Fort Resolution band has been operating with an acting chief for more than a year.

"We want a chief," said elder Henry McKay. "We don't have a chief."

That was the main sentiment expressed by a group of about 10 elders who met with News/North on Oct. 28.

Edward McKay, who at 90 is one of the oldest elders in Fort Resolution, said he has never seen the band go so long without an elected chief.

"Frustration is really taking its toll on elders in this community," said Leonard Beaulieu.

Chief Bill Norn was suspended by council in July of last year after being elected to a four-year term five months earlier.

Louis Balsillie, then the sub-chief, became acting chief following Norn's suspension.

Balsillie said Norn was removed as chief in December by a vote of council.

However, that dismissal still remains in dispute.

Balsillie said he expects Norn to sue the DKFN over his dismissal, although no court action has yet been launched.

"It's still lawyer-to-lawyer," Balsillie said, adding there have been attempts to reach an out-of-court settlement.

"It will be in the court's hands to say whether we were right or wrong," he said of the dismissal.

The acting chief declined to say what the grounds were for Norn's dismissal.

Repeated attempts to reach Norn for comment were unsuccessful.

Balsillie said no election can be held for a new chief until Norn's expected lawsuit is completed.

If a new chief is elected and Norn is reinstated by the courts, the band could end up with two chiefs, the acting chief said.

The concerned elders want the leadership uncertainty to be cleared up and object to a lack of information from the band.

"There is no transparency whatsoever, no accountability whatsoever," said elder Jim Villeneuve.

"We're in the dark," added Terry Villeneuve.

When council dismissed Norn in December, it made no announcement of the change.

"We were told by our lawyer that it was confidential," Balsillie said.

The elders are concerned band services may be suffering because of the leadership situation.

They also want the band to hold an annual general meeting. They said such a meeting actually began last December only to be recessed and never resumed.

They are also worried about the status of an elders' advisory committee.

"The acting chief decided to do away with it because he said there was no more money for it," said Terry Villeneuve.

Balsillie said the five-member committee still exists but is not being used as often to save money.

Each committee member gets a $100 honorarium per meeting. The committee will now be used for important gatherings, not just routine council meetings.

The elders also questioned whether the band council has enough members for a quorum.

"As far as the membership here are concerned, that's a defunct council," said Beaulieu, adding one council member is attending school in Fort Smith.

Balsillie said the council does have enough members - himself and four councillors.

The councillor studying in Fort Smith returns to Fort Resolution for meetings, he said.

Overall, Balsillie rejects criticism by the elders and said they're "nitpicking" about how the band's affairs are run.

The acting chief said, for example, the band has accessed funds for a new preschool and daycare, is starting a core box manufacturing facility, and secured work for band members at both the Thor Lake and Tamerlane Ventures mineral exploration projects.

"We're still moving ahead," he said. "We're not stopping because we don't have an elected chief."