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Objections raised to acclamation of chief
Some calling for new election in Tsiigehtchic

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Monday, July 20, 2015

Calls are being made for a new election for chief at the Gwichya Gwich'in Band in Tsiigehtchic.

NNSL photo/graphic

Phillip Blake: Chief of the Gwichya Gwich'in Band in Tsiigehtchic was returned to the leadership position by acclamation on June 12.

The controversy follows the June 12 acclamation of Chief Phillip Blake just days before a scheduled election on June 15.

That is the focal point

of a tangled process involving, among other things, ratification of the band's first-ever election code, a challenged candidate for chief, a call for the federal government to get involved and numerous reports, letters, appeals and other assorted documents.

On June 12, the Gwichya Gwich'in Band's (GGB) chief electoral officer issued a news release announcing the incumbent Blake and three councillors had been acclaimed.

"These findings were in accordance with the Gwichya Gwich'in Band Custom Election Code ...," the release states.

However, the election code was not ratified until a quorum of votes was reached during the June 15 election, when band

members could vote in a referendum process - which began in April - while helping to elect two community representatives to the Tsiigehtchic Charter Community.

Under the charter community system, Blake as chief becomes mayor.

Lawrence Norbert, a member of the band's Custom Election Code Referendum Committee, objects to the acclamation of Blake as chief, describing it as an abuse of power and calling on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) to become involved.

"We urge AANDC to investigate and determine if offenses were committed against the principles of administrative fairness and natural justice; if they were sufficiently serious; and if so, to order that the June 12th acclamation - illegally based on an unratified draft custom election code - be declared null and void and that a new election be held in its place, in accordance with the new membership-ratified custom election code," Norbert stated in written comments to News/North.

Norbert also objected to an ineffective appeal process, noting five band members filed appeals with the band and AANDC, and the referendum committee wrote a letter of concern.

"The five appellants - along with the GGB Custom Election Code Referendum Committee - have seen wrong and each took a stand to right it," he said.

"In failing to provide a fair appeal procedure, the Gwichya Gwich'in Band and, by proxy, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada have both breached the duty of fairness which should have been afforded to the appellants."

However, it appears the department is not about to join the fray.

"The Gwichya Gwich'in First Nation selects its leadership under a custom community system (custom code), meaning the process is outside of the electoral provisions of the Indian Act," a department spokesperson told News/North

"As such, the department has no role to play as to how the community's leadership is selected or how any disputes arising from an election or a ratification vote are resolved."

Norbert also contacted the territorial Department of Municipal and Community Affairs to object to Blake being sworn in as mayor on July 9, but it is declining to become involved in AANDC's area of band elections.

The acclamation of Chief Blake actually happened because of an earlier dispute.

Grace Blake, a former GGB chief, submitted her name as a candidate for

chief and had been accepted by an election committee, even though her name was not on the band's membership list.

Graeme Drew, the GGB's chief electoral officer at the time, said Grace Blake was accepted because of unique circumstances, including the fact she had previously been chief, and her candidacy was permitted by the proposed custom election code.

"There were a lot of reasons why we believed that she's eligible to be considered, and we want to err on the side of being inclusive, rather than being restrictive," said the Vancouver-based consultant.

The committee was following the proposed election code even though it had not been ratified.

However, Chief Blake wrote Drew on May 26 objecting to the "ineligible" candidate for chief.

"Ever since the band has been having elections, one of the essential conditions was that one has to be a registered member," the chief wrote.

"Being eligible to vote is a precursor to being a candidate."

The chief added that the fact a person had previously been chief does not translate into "automatic qualification" as a candidate, and accepting such a candidate would be "detrimental to the integrity of the process."

Drew said the letter from the chief was when things started to get "difficult" in the election process.

"That's when the committee and myself as officer just didn't feel as comfortable in applying the draft rules because they were still being voted on by the members," he said.

They recommended the June 15 election be postponed to August to allow time for the election code to be ratified. Drew also resigned as chief electoral officer on June 2 and the election committee resigned the next day, although he claimed they all did so to focus on the referendum and planned to return to the election committee.

The consultant said another chief electoral officer was appointed, and Grace Blake was ruled ineligible.

"I think very simply there should be a new election, and I think the chief is the one who should call it," he said. "I wouldn't want to win an election that way."

Drew has no objection to the three acclaimed councillors, adding there were five open seats.

When contacted by News/North, Chief Blake declined comment.

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