Saskatchewan

With council vote looming, Peepeekisis Cree Nation urban member calls for election reform

All eligible band members from Peepeekisis Cree Nation can cast a ballot in this week's election for two council positions, but some may have trouble doing so due to COVID-19.

Urban members are eligible to vote, but polls may not be accessible

Peepeekisis Cree Nation elections, set to take place this week, are leading one urban band member to call for reform. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

All eligible band members from Peepeekisis Cree Nation can cast a ballot in this week's election for two council positions, but some may have trouble doing so due to COVID-19.

Advance polls open on Tuesday and the formal vote will be hosted on Wednesday.

Indigenous Services Canada population data from November showed 2,336 of Peepeekisis's 3,057 members live off-reserve. 

Joshua Brass Fraser said his dad and others from the community moved away from Peepeekisis decades ago to find work.

He said his dad ended up in Calgary and married a woman from Tsuut'ina Nation. Their children would become registered Peepeekisis Cree Nation members, meaning they can cast votes in the coming elections. 

Complete data for the band's population is not available through Indigenous Services Canada's website. Brass Fraser estimated there were 1,800 to 2,000 members eligible to vote on and off-reserve.

Brass Fraser said he proposed the band find a way to engage more voters in the chief and council elections at a general band meeting last month in Balcarres, about 92 kilometres east Regina.

Peepeekisis' election act allows for two advance polls prior to the general election. 

The act states the polls are to take place in Regina at the Friendship Centre or another public location designated by the band's chief electoral officer.

"It doesn't say that it has to be that in-person poll, that's where it's kind of grey," he said. 

"When it comes to the opportunity to use that, it can be interpreted as electronic, or mail-in, or a third physical replacement."

Brass Fraser said he was told when he made his suggestion t the executive administration initially approved the idea, however stipulations in the chief electoral officer's contract prevented inter provincial travel and the poll couldn't happened.

So he proposed amending the election act entirely.

He said he was told the election act couldn't be changed in an election year, despite there being no provisions in the Peepeekisis election act saying so.

"They said they were going to furnish or supply minutes from a meeting, showing that condition. They never responded," he said.

Peepeekisis' chief electoral officer did not respond to a request for comment for this story. 

COVID-19 delay won't happen

Safety concerns stemming from the high number of COVID-19 cases in the prairies were one of Brass Fraser's biggest reasons for abstaining from travelling to Regina cast his ballot.

He said he looked into the possibility of renting a bus and driving band members who want to vote from Calgary to Regina, but found he isn't allowed due to COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta. 

Brass Fraser said band members in Manitoba also wouldn't be able to travel to Regina or Peepeekisis to cast their vote due to the circuit breaker in effect there. 

He said he asked for the community to postpone the council election until the spring, when the COVID-19 vaccine may be more accessible and less travel restrictions would be in place. 

Other communities were allowed to delay votes due to COVID-19 and he said the idea generated support from elders, past leaders and everyday members from the community.

Brass Fraser said he didn't receive a response. 

A call for reform

The band is going ahead with this week's vote, a move Brass Fraser called reckless and worrisome.

"Where's the leadership? When you're a leader, you lead, you legislate," Brass Fraser said. 

"All levels of government have been required to make changes to the way they're doing business and also having to create emergency acts. Why can't Peepeekisis be responsive with its election act, use its amending formula and postpone the election?"

He said he wanted to see his community's election act, created in 2006, modernized.

Brass Fraser said he has an education in Indigenous governance and believes the current election act has numerous holes and leaves a lot left up for interpretation.

He said modernization of the election act should include options like mail-in voting, telephone voting or electronic voting.

Brass Fraser suggested the band spend money on electoral reform in the future. He noted the community was able to inform band members about a settlement vote electronically, and provide them with mail-in ballots before that vote last week, and called on leaders in the Cree Nation to do the same with band elections.

"Everyone needs to be involved, everyone needs to be heard," he said.

"We need to work on building our democracy, we need to work on changing our election act and making it more responsive to the people and look for other options."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this article indicated members from Peepeekisis engaged in online voting for a recent settlement agreement. In fact, band members engaged in a virtual information session and cast their votes via mail-in ballot.
    Dec 15, 2020 11:38 AM CT

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