K'atl'odeeche First Nation vote under appeal, management of $28.3M in question

Members of the First Nation voted Wednesday on the 'cows and plows' agreement, but the results are being appealed. The outcome will not be known for at least a week, the First Nation says.

Members of First Nation voted Wednesday on 'cows and plows' agreement, but results are being appealed

Doug Lamalice, member of the K'atl'odeeche First Nation, thinks the agreement wasn’t a good one. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

Members of the K'atl'odeeche First Nation near Hay River, N.W.T., voted Wednesday on how to manage a $28 million agricultural benefits agreement.

The result of the vote has not been officially reported. Instead, the First Nation announced Thursday that the vote had been challenged, and is under appeal.

At stake is the disbursement and management of $28.3 million from the federal government, accepted in November 2017. If the management agreement is ratified, it would mean a one-time $15,000 payout for each of the 645 band members, and an $18 million trust fund. Treaty 8, ratified in 1900, promised "cows and plows" to First Nations that wanted to take up farming.

According to an unsigned news release Thursday, 19 mail-in ballots where neither opened nor counted because of irregularities with how voter identification envelopes were filled out: some failed to include a valid "voter's treaty number," others were not properly witnessed.

In response to a complaint, an appeals officer will decide if the mail-in ballots should have been included in cases where the voter's identity could otherwise be determined.

Although the final count of Wednesday's vote was not provided by the K'atl'odeeche First Nation, the statement said, whatever the outcome, it could be affected should the ballots in question be accepted.

'Strong no vote'

Doug Lamalice, a member of the First Nation, was at the ratification vote. He said the vote was close, with 135 voting against and 132 in favour. He said members against the management package want more options and more money.

"This strong no vote, they should accept it and they should humble themselves and they should realize the mistake that they made," Lamalice said.

Lamalice said he represents many of the "naysayers" who are upset with what they say is a "take it or leave it" approach. He'd like to see a more options, such as a bigger payout and smaller trust fund. 

Lamalice said he knows a "no" vote means it could be months, if not years, before people get paid.

"I'm not worried about how long it takes. At the end of the day I want respect for my people, I want respect for my past, and I want respect for my future," he said.

Officials from the KFN office declined to comment while the appeal is underway but confirmed an "individual" launched the appeal, in part because of the narrow margin, and in part because of the 19 uncounted ballots that had been mailed in but were not properly filled out.

The K'atl'odeeche First Nation is one of 21 bands in B.C., Alberta and the N.W.T. that has either settled or are in the process of settling the agricultural benefit claim, which falls under Treaty 8.

The decision on the appeal is expected to be delivered next week. A final result of the referendum will be posted after the appeal is decided.

With files from Kirsten Murphy