(Pictured: Norway House Chief Ron Evans)
APTN National News
Two Manitoba chiefs have called on the grand chief of the province’s largest First Nation organization to back the Harper government’s proposed First Nation Election Act.
Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Donavan Fontaine and Norway House Chief Ron Evans said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Derek Nepinak is not reflecting the will of the chiefs who elected him when he speaks against the proposed bill.
Evans, who was the previous grand chief, said Nepinak was overstepping his authority by opposing the act.
“I am not afraid to state that,” said Evans, who was the grand chief before Nepinak. “He has the mentality of him being the chief of Pine Creek (First Nation).
Nepinak was chief of Pine Creek before he replaced Evans.
The proposed bill would create four year terms for band councils, allow different communities to hold elections on the same day, establish rules on nominations and eligibility, define electoral offenses and penalties while giving the courts the last word on election result appeals.
Currently, band councils under the Indian Act election code can only stay in office for a two-year term.
If the bill becomes law, First Nations will have the option of going under the new law.
There are currently 238 First Nations who conduct elections under the Indian Act. 353 have their own election codes, 36 have election codes defined by self-government agreements.
The Harper government reintroduced the bill in the House of Commons on Oct. 29. Because of parliamentary rules, it sits in the same position it was in when it died on the Order Paper after the prime minister prorogued Parliament (when). The bill, which was introduced in the last session in the Senate, has passed through the Red Chamber and was referred to the committee after second reading in the House of Commons.
The two chiefs appeared before the Parliamentary committee on Aboriginal Affairs which is examining the proposed bill.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, who testified to the committee before the two chiefs, said in his testimony that the proposed bill was “largely driven and led” by the AMC and the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat, which represents First Nation chiefs from Atlantic Canada.
Fontaine was asked by NDP MP Dennis Bevington about Nepinak’s opposition to the bill. Fontaine said the AMC under Evans passed a resolution supporting it.
“The resolution is still there,” said Fontaine. “The current grand chief must respect that resolution.”
Nepinak said in an interview that the resolution referred to by Fontaine only endorsed community engagement in the development of the bill and that AMC has no concrete position on the proposed bill at the moment.
Nepinak said one of his major concerns in the bill is that the minister of Aboriginal Affairs continues to retain “ultimate” power over elections.
“The minister maintains ultimate control in the outcome of elections by retaining the power to draw communities into the new law,” said Nepinak. “It’s a step back into history and colonial authority over Indigenous government.”
Nepinak said no matter where the AMC stakes its position, it will be up to individual communities to decide whether they submit to the new law, if it is enacted.
Evans said he has no problem with the minister’s discretionary powers to put bands under the new law.
“The (minister’s) powers are there now anyway, so it doesn’t change that,” Evans said.
The proposed bill also allows the minister to force First Nations under the new law if there is a “protracted leadership dispute” or if there is a “corrupt practice” connected to an election. The proposed bill, however, doesn’t define what those are.
Valcourt said that’s because there is no need to define the triggers for ministerial involvement.
“It’s not defined because I don’t think it needs to be defined,” said Valcourt. “It would be totally irresponsible for a government today to pass a law knowing in certain circumstances where in a community they cannot resolve a governance issue it puts people at risk and (say) I don’t care. We care.”
Nepinak is appearing before the committee on Nov. 19.