In what appears to be a first for a reserve in Atlantic Canada, Membertou First Nation is allowing its residents to vote online in an upcoming referendum.

At stake in the referendum is the band's newly developed Family Homes Law. The proposed matrimonial property rights law deals with ownership of the family home in the event a common law or married couple separates or divorces.

Residents can still vote in person on April 29 and 30. But Mi'kmaq journalist Maureen Googoo, who has written about the referendum, says the band hopes that by offering the online option it will ensure voter turnout is high enough for results to be recognized by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

The "magic number" is 243, which represents 25 per cent of the eligible voters in Membertou, said Googoo. Anything less, she said, would make the referendum results "null and void."

Maureen Googoo

Maureen Googoo is the owner/editor of Kukukwes.com, a website that covers Indigenous news in Atlantic Canada. (Courtesy of Kukukwes.com/Stephen Brake)

Why now?

The band is holding the referendum before new federal legislation, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, is implemented by the department in June.

It applies to all First Nations, except those who put in place their own matrimonial real property laws before that date.

The federal legislation does not satisfy all Membertou's concerns, Googoo said. 

"They have concerns about the weight that was given to common law relationships versus married couples," she said in an interview with CBC Cape Breton's Mainstreet.

"It also didn't really take into consideration the best interests of the children when it comes to determining which parent occupies the home."

Under Membertou's proposed law, a judge would be compelled to consider what's best for the children.

Googoo said people in the community are stressing the importance of getting out to vote and don't want legislation imposed.

To vote online, residents need their 10-digit band number and a working email address. The band says the process takes between five and 10 minutes.

Googoo also said she's seen interest about the online aspect of the referendum from outside Membertou.

"Obviously, it has generated some chatter," she said.