Election results quashed at Alexander First Nation reserve
Indigenous Affairs identifies $5.3 million in payments lacking sufficient supporting documentation
Alexander First Nation has no chief and council after the results of a band election were overturned following an appeal ruling that concluded election regulations were violated.
The quashing of the July election results was confirmed by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. A document obtained by CBC states there is no elected council in place following the ruling.
"At this point, there is currently no sitting chief and council and all seats are currently vacant as a result of the Appeal Board's decision," wrote Geraldine Hill, chairperson of the Alexander appeal board, in an email dated Aug. 31.
"The Superintendent of INAC may fulfill the role of leader on an interim basis in the event that need is identified," the email added.
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On July 13, Alexander band members went to the polls on the reserve, 40 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. They re-elected a chief, who is facing sex assault charges, plus six councillors, including three incumbents.
According to Hill's correspondence, the election results were invalidated last month after an appeal by former Coun. Edwin Paul, who was not voted back into office.
The appeal board cited a violation of Alexander tribal government election regulations. The rules prohibit an early election call without the unanimous consent of the chief and council. Chief Kurt Burnstick was not present on May 30 when council voted to move ahead with an early election, the appeal board was told.
CBC attempts to get further explanation or comment from officials — with the federal government, local election officials or the former chief and current band administrator — about the overturned election results were unsuccessful.
INAC referred CBC to Alexander First Nation. The appeal board chair told CBC to contact band administrator Alphonse Arcand.
Arcand, who did not respond, is among a list of former administrators named in an audit identifying $2.1-million in questionable spending.
A woman in the band office said she could not contact Arcand because she didn't have his cell phone number.
Chief electoral officer Marvin Yellowhorn and Burnstick, who was elected chief in 2014, also declined comment.
The vacancies and botched election are the latest in a string of troubles for the reserve, already shaken and divided over allegations of sexual assault against Burnstick, who also faces questions around some personal financial transactions.
According to documents provided to CBC, INAC's investigations services branch director, Jean-Marc Lafreniere, wrote to Burnstick on July 27 to share the results of a financial review, conducted by Ernst & Young LLP, of band expenditures between April 2010 and March 2016.
Resort stays, vet bills, casino cash advances
A 10-page summary of the findings identified more than $5.3 million in payments lacking sufficient supporting documentation. The portion of the funds coming directly from INAC was calculated at $2.5 million, Lafreniere wrote.
The review found Burnstick topped a list for salary advances at $228,296. Arcand racked up the highest amount of Visa charges, totalling $996,705.49, with no supporting documents, according to the findings.
Auditors also found a series of credit card charges "which could be personal in nature." They included spending for resort stays, purchases at liquor stores, golf course, Ticketmaster, Netflix, veterinarian services and cash advances at casinos, wrote Lafreniere.
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In a Sept. 11 email, Sabrina Williams, press secretary for Indigenous Relations & Northern Affairs in Ottawa, told CBC News "a third party co-manager" is now working to sort out finances with the Alexander community, at the band's request.
"Since the review is ongoing, we are not in a position to comment as the results are not final," wrote Williams. "We look forward to receiving chief and council's comments in order to determine the next steps."
Regarding the band election, she added: "The Department is in receipt of some documentation that indicates that an election has been set aside. However, best to contact the First Nation directly for confirmation."
In January, Burnstick was found not-guilty after being charged with sexual assault related to an incident in October 2015.
Those laws, they're set up to benefit leadership, not to defend membership.- Rodney Yellowdirt, band member
He's due in court for a pretrial conference next April to face three more charges dating back to 1985. Burnstick is accused of breaking into a woman's house and sexual assaulting her.
Band member and business owner Rodney Yellowdirt also appealed the election results, although his challenge wasn't officially ruled on by the appeal board. He argued members who live off reserve should have been eligible to vote. According to federal statistics, about half of Alexander's 2,223 members live off-reserve.
It's one of several changes to the election rules Yellowdirt is advocating, to improve transparency and accountability on reserves.
"The First Nation's not a bank," he said, adding politicians charged criminally should not be allowed to run or remain in office.
"You're never going to change the problems in First Nations communities unless you change the rules. Those laws, they're set up to benefit leadership, not to defend membership."