New Brunswick

St. Mary's drummer says her chief abused his power

Twenty-three-year-old Jade Polches says she was told that Alan (Chicky) Polchies Jr. tried to have her expelled from the Assembly of First Nations ceremonies after she reported a sexual assault.

Woman was told chief tried to have her expelled from AFN ceremonies after she reported sexual assault

Jade Polches, 23, says the chief of St. Mary's First Nation used band council resources to deny he sexually assaulted her. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

A member of St. Mary's First Nation says it's been a punishing year since she volunteered to drive her chief home from a Fredericton bar. 

Jade Polches says Feb.  22, 2019, wasn't the first time she helped an intoxicated Alan Polchies Jr. get back to his residence. 

However, that date is seared into her mind because, she says, that's the night he leaned over from the passenger seat of her car and gripped her vagina. 

"I didn't know what to do," she said. "I just screamed and slapped his hand off me."

Polches said it was a creepy, predatory thing to do and made her extremely uncomfortable. 

All she ever wanted was an apology, she said, but when that didn't happen, she went to the police and made a complaint.   

Polches in 2018 by the St. John River. (Jade Polches/Submitted)

Polchies was charged with sexual assault and assault, but those charges were withdrawn in October after he completed the alternative measures program. 

A participant in this program can avoid the criminal justice system and the possibility of a criminal record by accepting responsibility for what happened and undertaking an accountability plan with a program co-ordinator. 

This woman from St. Mary’s First Nation says chief Alan (Chicky) Polchies Jr. sexually assaulted her and tried to have her expelled from AFN ceremonies after she reported the assault to police. 3:36

Jade Polches said she was never asked what she thought about diverting the matter from the courts. 

And, she said, after the chief was offered alternative measures, she wasn't given the chance to participate, even though the program is supposed to allow for that. 

Polches said she also feels it's unfair the chief used band council resources to distribute a public denial, in the form of a letter sent out to homes.

She believes he also used his influence to try to have her removed from her drumming group, days before the most important political and cultural event of the year. 

Polches said the chief's actions have divided the community and last month, she wrote to her band council, asking elected leaders to address her concerns in an open meeting. 

Sisters of the Drum 

Polches said it hurt to see her drum group feeling torn apart over whether she should play at the July 23 opening gala of the Assembly of First Nations, which was meeting in Fredericton.

Polches had been drumming with the Pokuhulakon Witsehkehsu, or Sisters of the Drum, for about two years.    

The all-Wolastoqiyik ensemble had been looking forward to performing at a traditional welcoming ceremony at the St. John River, also known as Wolastoq. 

"I love drumming with the girls," Polches told CBC News. "It's so powerful. You feel so strong. Everyone's connected."

The thrill started to fade on July 20, when, according to her saved Facebook messages, another drummer, Ann Margaret, wrote to Polches, saying they needed to meet.  

Polches has been a member of the Pokuhulakon Witsehkehsu, or Sisters of the Drum, for about two years. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Polches said she spoke to Ann Margaret outside St. Mary's Smoke Shop and that's when she was told the chief did not want her to play. 

Polches said she was told that if she insisted on playing, the Sisters would be cancelled, altogether.

She was told to stay away and "take one for the team," she said.

CBC News called Ann Margaret to ask if she could confirm whether she was directly contacted by the chief, but she wouldn't answer questions. She would only say, "We dealt with it at a group meeting."

Messages left for the chief were never returned. 

However, another drummer, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, said she was also told there was pressure coming from the chief.

St. Mary’s Chief Alan Polchies Jr. pictured in a traditional canoe on the opening day of the Assembly of First Nations on July 23, 2019. (CBC)

She said it caused the group to hold an emergency meeting to deal with the "aftermath."

Polches said she went to the meeting and about seven other drummers were there.

She said the crisis was resolved when she promised to the group that she would not make a scene or embarrass the chief. 

"Basically, I had to make an agreement on not protesting," she said, even though she never intended to protest. 

"As long as I smiled and played the drum, we'd all get to play."

Band council letter

Polches said she was also hurt when the chief used his office to try to discredit her. 

On July 22, the chief wrote a letter on St. Mary's band council letterhead and had it delivered to the homes in the community.  

In that letter, he acknowledged that a member of the community had made allegations against him. 

The July 22 letter written by Chief Polchies on St. Mary's band council letterhead. (CBC)

He said they were allegations that he would "normally take to court to prove my innocence due to my belief of the lack of evidence required to obtain a conviction."

"However, the offer of post charge diversion was made to me by the Crown prosecutor's office which I have fully accepted."

Polchies also wrote: "There are times, as the first openly gay Chief in Canada, I have been subject to prejudice, racism and discrimination." 

"Despite all of this, I am optimistic about our community's future and still proud to hold the office of chief."

Polches said the chief's words were just a public denial. 

"In fact, he implied he was the victim," she said.    

Alternative measures — how does it work?

Polches said she doesn't understand why she was left out of the alternative measures program.   

According to the Department of Public Safety, the program may be offered where sufficient evidence exists that an offence has been committed.

Eligible adults must "take responsibility for the act that forms the basis of the offence."

They do so by signing a contract and by expressing responsibility either to the alternative measures co-ordinator alone or in the presence of a committee, depending on the case. 

Jade Polches pictured drumming during the AFN welcoming ceremony on July 23. (CBC)

The program may also provide opportunities for safe communication between the adult and the victim.

Polches said she asked to participate but was never given the opportunity. 

A spokesperson for the department said participants in the alternative measures program have the right to be dealt with in a confidential manner. Further, the department cannot release a record of what an individual did to complete the program.

However, the complainant does have the right to know the outcome. 

Polches said she was told the chief agreed to keep the peace, made a donation to victim services and wrote a reflection letter. 

Polches said she was told she could file a complaint if she didn't like that outcome. 

"But by then I already felt so hopeless," she said.

Now it's up to the band council

Polches said she can't let these matters drop.

In the letter she wrote to the band council, she said she wanted an open meeting to talk about the incident and what has happened since. 

"What he did to me did not feel right at all," she wrote.

She's asking the band council to direct the chief to issue a formal apology — not only to her but also to the community for issuing the letter. 

"This has divided the community and it's time to set everything straight and bring this to an end," she wrote.

Coun. Melanie Berube said she'll raise the issue at the band council meeting on Monday.