Members call for 'immediate' election in N.W.T. First Nation

Floyd Bertrand says the chief and council are violating term limits established in the Indian Act after a custom election law was rejected by membership in 2008.

Petition alleges chief and council in Fort Liard are violating term limits set by the Indian Act

Floyd Bertrand, a former chief of Acho Dene Koe First Nation, says the custom election codes setting a three-year term limit were never ratified. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

A petition circulated among members of Acho Dene Koe First Nation in Fort Liard, N.W.T., is calling for an "immediate" election of chief and council, claiming they have overstayed their mandate by several months.

Floyd Bertrand, a former chief, submitted a package of documents to the band leadership on Monday arguing custom election codes written in 2007 have no legal standing.

Without custom election codes, First Nations revert to the terms set by the Indian Act, which call for elections every two years.

The current chief, Gene Hope, and council were elected in May 2017.

"The past two years we've been wondering when we're going to have this election," said Bertrand.

Hope declined a request for an interview, saying the issue would be discussed at the next community meeting. As of Wednesday, a date had not been set for the meeting.

'The past two years we've been wondering, 'When we're going to have this election?'' said former chief Floyd Bertrand. (Submitted by Floyd Bertrand)

Confusion about election codes

The documents assembled by Bertrand contain a letter to band leadership stating repeatedly the band's custom election codes, written in 2007, have not been ratified.

The enclosed petition containing more than 50 signatures, obtained by CBC News, says the membership does "not accept other election rules or guideline[s]" and will only accept election guidelines established in the Indian Act.

First Nations have the power to develop custom election systems under the Indian Act, subject to approval by the federal minister of Indigenous Affairs.

According to the Indigenous Services Canada website, the system must first be approved by band members in a "manner as the First Nation and the department may agree upon."

Leaders have an obligation to provide advanced notice of the ratification vote, and must provide a list of eligible voters and a record of votes cast to the minister.

Bertrand says that never happened. His letters state that the 2007 election codes were never ratified by an adequate vote of members, or approved by a representative from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), the predecessor to the current Indigenous Services Canada.

A 2008 letter from George Cleary, INAC's then-regional director in the N.W.T, encourages the Acho Dene Koe chief and council to 'revisit the ratification process' for the custom election code. (Submitted by Floyd Bertrand)

Bertrand provided CBC News with a May 2008 letter he wrote to INAC's then-regional director, George Cleary. In the letter, Bertrand says the band manager informed him the election codes had been approved by a vote of just 16 members.

With the letter, the document reads, Bertrand enclosed a petition "of no support" for the new election codes containing 48 signatures — including that of current chief, Gene Hope.

In response, Cleary wrote to Acho Dene Koe First Nation chief and council.

"In light of the concerns raised by your membership, I would urge you to revisit the ratification process with your membership in a way that allows for full community participation in the process," the letter states.

Signatures from a 2008 petition rejecting custom election codes written for Acho Dene Koe First Nation show the signature of current chief Gene Hope. (Submitted by Floyd Bertrand)

Documents suggest conflicting information

Since then, Bertrand's documents show, the band has issued conflicting information about the status of the 2007 codes.

An excerpt from the definitions section of a human resources policy issued by the band states council consists of "Chief and five (5) councillors [elected] every three (3) years."

But the current council consists of six members.

The band has also implied the codes have not been ratified. A band update issued in February and a poster for a membership meeting in August refer to "draft" election codes they're advancing for approval.

The band update says explicitly that Acho Dene Koe First Nation "currently administers" an Indian Act election system, which it says "are now the minority across the country."

Bertrand said he's yet to receive a response from the chief or council.

Indigenous Services Canada's website says Acho Dene Koe First Nation is currently under a custom code.

Presented with Bertrand's documents, a spokesperson for the federal department reaffirmed that Acho Dene Koe First Nation is subject to a custom code, and referred all further questions to the band leadership.

Bertrand is not deterred. He said during his time on council, he never served more than two years of his term without an election, and couldn't remember a time when elections weren't held every two years.

He also said he's consulted a lawyer, who encouraged him to bring the issue to a vote at the next community meeting.