The Federal Court of Canada is trying to sort out the “somewhat confusing state of affairs” of a First Nation in northeastern B.C.
A recent ruling orders Blueberry River First Nation (BRFN) council to meet and discuss a petition seeking to remove Chief Marvin Yahey.
Justice Michael Phelan also ordered the six-member council to resume holding regular band meetings.
“This decision concerns a First Nations Band’s governance structure intractably locked into a systemic and behavioural stalemate,” Phelan said in his reasons for judgment, “that must be unlocked for the well being of the members of the band.”
The three councillors who filed the suit – Robin Ewaskow, Shelley Gauthier and Troy Wolf – claim they were locked out of the band office more than a year ago by the chief and two other councillors.
They sued the chief for allegedly breaching his fiduciary duties.
Phelan told council to meet within 45 days of his decision to discuss the petition. And he ordered the band’s chief operating officer (COO) to prepare a report on the call for the chief’s removal.
Phelan said it was “wrongheaded” not to hold regular meetings and conduct business during unscheduled meetings.
He also said the COO must hold a regular council meeting within 30 days.
“Governance of BRFN, the parties agree, is in disarray, with each side blaming the other for the current state of affairs,” Phelan wrote in his 24-page decision.
Custom election code
The band operates under an extensive custom election code that mandates the chief may be removed from office if he or she loses the confidence of band members, Phelan noted.
He said the petition for Yahey’s removed received 217 signatures or around 60 per cent of band members.
According to court documents, the band is supposed to hold two meetings a month, but its last council meeting was held on April 20, 2020.
The COO, who Phelan noted reports to the chief, was additionally ordered to enforce mandatory council meetings. The judge said the COO could consult with a lawyer paid for by the band.
“We must have a band council meeting within 30 days and the petition must be put on the agenda in a separate meeting within 45 days,” said the three councillors who filed the suit in an emailed statement.
“We are happy that the band can now move forward.”
Yahey and the other two councillors – Sherry Dominic and Wayne Yahey – said they welcomed the ruling.
“Further, our Chief Operating Officer, Merli de Guzman, can now do her job, with the help of a lawyer.”
Blueberry River is a member of Treaty 8 territory. It is located 80 kms northwest of Fort St. John.