PEI

Cheers, tears as off-reserve Abegweit members vote for first time

Off-reserve members are voting for the first time, following a recent federal court ruling that found the band's old election rules violated Charter rights on off-reserve members.

Roddy Gould Jr. elected chief

Patsy Bernard of Charlottetown, in reflective orange, was the first in line to vote when polls opened at 8 a.m. With Bernard are other off-reserve members. From left: Cheryl Simon, Judy Clark, Barb Jadis-Bruised Head and Misiksk Jadis. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Patsy Bernard was first in line when the polls opened at 8 a.m. Friday for Abegweit First Nation band elections in Scotchfort, P.E.I.

As a band member who lives off-reserve, the Charlottetown resident had never been allowed to vote for her council and chief.

"I waited 36 years to vote in this election," said Bernard, after casting her ballot inside the band council office. "I voted in provincial elections, federal elections, and this is the very first time I get to vote in my own band election."

Off-reserve members are voting for the first time following a recent federal court ruling that found the Mi'kmaw band's old election rules violated Charter rights of off-reserve members.

Bernard was one of the 190 votes cast in the election. 

Roddy Gould Jr. was elected chief with Jacob Jadis, Christopher Jadis and Sheri Bernard elected to council.

'It's been a long time'

The grounds outside the band office had something of a community picnic feeling, as band members exchanged handshakes and hugs as they arrived to vote. Some off-reserve members travelled for days. Carolyn DoCouto drove from Ontario, after raising funds to make the trip.

"It's been a long time," said DoCouto. "It's a bitter sweet moment. I'm allowed to vote, but is anything going to change?"

Barb Jadis-Bruised Head flew in from Alberta. She was arrested 20 years ago, along with a handful of other off-reserve band members, when they tried to vote at Scotchfort in the 1999 band elections.

"We wanted to practise our right to vote. And if they didn't know it, we knew it," said Jadis-Bruised Head. "It took this long, but it happened today."

Carolyn DoCouto of Hamilton, Ont., arrives to vote with her mother, Brenda Bernard of Morell. As off-reserve band members, both voted for the first time. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

More changes?

The band and community may need to think about more changes to voting rules, to making voting easier for off-reserve band members, according to one band council member.

"Maybe electronic ballots, mail-in ballots, remote polls," said council member Jacob Jadis. "All this stuff would be up for discussion and to see what best fits the community."

The election was originally planned for April 17, but was postponed after some band members asked for a judicial review of the First Nation's custom election code.

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About the Author

Brian Higgins

Videojournalist

Brian Higgins shoots video and reports news on Prince Edward Island.