Dehcho member protests nomination process as grand chief candidates are announced

Candidates in the upcoming election for grand chief of the Dehcho First Nations have been confirmed, but one man says that an unfair application process prevented him from being nominated.

Three candidates have been confirmed in the upcoming June election

The Dehcho First Nations office in Fort Simpson, N.W.T. (Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation). An election is being held for grand chief in June during the annual assembly. (Luke Carroll/ CBC)

A member of the Dehcho First Nations said an unfair application process is preventing him from running for grand chief.

The Dehcho First Nations will hold an election for grand chief during its annual general assembly at the end of the month. 

Three candidates are approved for the upcoming election:

  • Herb Norwegian, former Dehcho First Nations grand chief.
  • Tim Lennie, former chief of Pehdzeh Ki First Nation in Wrigley, N.W.T.
  • And Jim Antoine, former N.W.T. premier and former chief of Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation in Fort Simpson, N.W.T. 

Ernest Tonka, who said that he has been working in construction for over 40 years, aimed to be among the selected candidates but failed to submit a completed application by the deadline.

Ernest Tonka is disappointed that he can't stand for grand chief in the next election. (Submitted by Ernest Tonka)

The Hay River resident said that the election notice was only posted online — a problem for people with limited internet access.

 "A lot of people don't go online. You know, I have never been on Facebook in my lifetime," he said. 

"They should have advertised [the position] around the communities, like stick it on the boards."

The 2022 election nomination notice was posted to the Dehcho First Nations website on April 26 and noted a May 27 deadline. 

Tonka said that the one-month application window was not long enough to campaign and get the necessary documents together.

He described finding out about the position through a friend two weeks before the deadline and rushing to the Dehcho office in Fort Simpson to get a paper copy of the nomination form.

"They said I don't qualify because I don't have my right criminal [background] check, and I don't have [a] resume."

The online notice states that candidates are required to submit a nomination form, resume, two reference letters and an RCMP criminal record check. 

Tonka said that unlike the online nomination notice, the paper copy did not list a resume as a requirement.

"If I knew that I needed a resume, that's easy. I would've went and got [it] ... But it didn't say that on the form," he said. 

CBC News was unable to obtain a paper copy to confirm whether or not it matched the online notice. 

Former, interim grand chiefs don't see a problem

Herb Norwegian, a former grand chief and current candidate, didn't think that the upcoming election had an issue with advertising. 

"It was public knowledge already for a long time that [the election] was going to happen," said Norwegian.

"If they're not picking up on the website, it's being told to them by their next door neighbour."

Norwegian said he had no problem accessing the information online.

"Paper is great, but I think that's pretty old style stuff," he said. 

Interim Grand Chief Stanley Sanguez will not seek reelection. Sanguez disagrees with Tonka's claims that the grand chief application process is unfair. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Interim Grand Chief Stanley Sanguez also spoke with CBC News about Tonka's complaint. 

"[The application process is] not a problem. There was never a problem," said Sanguez. 

"People that were screened out because of incomplete applications to the grand chief tried to bring some changes at the assembly.

"Don't go to assembly crying, saying that 'I want to make some change because I messed up the date.' That's not going to fly for me as a chief." 

Tonka has considered disputing his unsubmitted application and still seemed to hold some hope of being accepted as a candidate.

"Maybe I can challenge it if I wanted to," he said. 

"We'll see what happens, and then I'll take it from there."


Emma Grunwald is a reporter with CBC News in Yellowknife.